EU remains silent as Poland’s government assaults top court

PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński. [Piotr Drabik/Flickr]

The EU remained silent on Thursday (13 July) despite being pressed by journalists to say something following the news that Poland’s far-right government tabled a bill in parliament that would subordinate the country’s Supreme Court to executive power.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party set its sights on the Supreme Court, which supervises lower courts, after already passing a slew of reforms of the Constitutional Court, whose main role is to check that laws are compliant with the constitution.

The proposed bill, published in the early hours of Thursday, stipulates that the current Supreme Court judges will be forced to retire, with the exception of those indicated by the justice minister, who would also be responsible for selecting candidates to succeed the retired judges.

The bill adds that if the chief justice of the Supreme Court retires, “his duties and powers will be passed on to the court justice designated by the justice minister”.

“The announcement of a coup”

Grzegorz Schetyna, the head of the main opposition party Civic Platform (PO), immediately denounced the tabling of the bill as an “announcement of a coup”.

Supreme Court chief justice Małgorzata Gersdorf, who has been critical of prior judicial measures introduced by the PiS, on Thursday said the bill would transform the organ into a “court attached to the justice ministry”.

She told reporters that the bill now before the PiS-controlled parliament would make the court “heavily dependent on the executive power, which is very inappropriate”.

On Wednesday (12 July) the PiS pushed through a bill to give parliament a greater say in appointing judges, a move that the opposition and rights groups said violated the constitutional separation of powers.

Poland's ruling PiS passes law on judges, opposition sounds alarm

Lawmakers from Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party on Wednesday (12 July) pushed through a bill to give parliament a greater say in appointing judges, a move that the opposition and rights groups said violated the constitutional separation of powers.

The PiS has already run afoul of the European Commission and critics at home for implementing reforms of the Constitutional Court that include changing the order in which cases are heard and how the chief justice is chosen.

Critics also cite other PiS bids to consolidate power including moves to increase state control over public broadcasters.

Journalists pressed  the Commission spokesperson on Thursday for a reaction on Poland’s declining democracy.

The changes to the bill on the national judiciary council run contrary to the recommendations by the Council of Europe and by the European Commission under the Rule of Law procedure. Poland is the only EU country subject to this procedure, which is triggered in the case of “a systemic threat” to the rule of law in a member country.

EU takes unprecedented step against Poland over rule of law

The European Commission announced on Sunday (3 January) that it would discuss the state of the rule of law in Poland after the country’s hard-right government pushed through changes to the judiciary and media over the Christmas break.

The EPP President Manfred Weber, among other MEPs, called on the European Commission to react against the measures taken by the Polish government.

Alexander Winterstein, deputy chief spokesperson, refused to answer numerous questions, saying that the EU executive will address the issue precisely in the framework of the Rule of Law procedure, and that no “running commentary” would be offered in the meantime.

According to the procedure, Poland risks being stripped of its voting rights in the 28-member bloc, but such a move requires unanimity, while Hungary said it would not support sanctions.

With Hungarian support, Poland defies EU over rule of law

Poland dismissed on Monday (20 February) demands that it implement judiciary reforms deemed essential by the European Commission to uphold the rule of law.

Background

The EU remained silent on Thursday (13 July) despite being pressed by journalists to say something following the news that Poland’s far-right government tabled a bill in parliament that would subordinate the country’s Supreme Court to executive power.

Further Reading