Despite persisting concerns on the rule of law in Poland, the EU executive sees the country’s plan to scrap its disciplinary chamber for judges as a “positive step”, but urges to adopt the law “soon.”
“We would like to see the law in a good shape with the proper scope and content to be adopted soon,” said the Commission vice-president Věra Jourová on Tuesday (February 22), after a hearing on the rule of law situation in Poland.
In the past few weeks, Polish President Andrzej Duda and national lawmakers have proposed legislation for a reform of the national disciplinary chamber, which is a pre-condition for Poland to receive EU recovery funds.
Last July, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled Poland should suspend the chamber, responsible for dismissing several judges critical of the government.
Jourová said no judges have been reinstated to work so far, despite the ECJ ruling.
“This issue is crucial, because despite all the legal complexity, the question is simple. Will Poland respect the rulings of the European Court of Justice or not?”
However, she said “the fact that there is a movement to address and reform the disciplinary regime is a positive step,” and added that the Commission is currently analysing the draft laws.
Before the meeting, Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders called on the country to respect the ECJ rulings, including the €1 million fine to be paid for each day the chamber continues to operate.
Reynders said the Commission had already sent two letters to ask for the payment of €111 million in fines.
Meanwhile, the Commission would also like to move quickly on the conditionality mechanism in Poland.
“Now we have everything in place,” Jourová said, referring to last week’s ruling of the European Court of Justice, which paves the way for the Commission to block Poland’s access to EU funds.
However, some fears the rule of law situation in the country risks being sidelined by the current crisis in Ukraine.
“I fear it will be put down in the agenda,” said Green MEP Daniel Freund, who is currently in Warsaw as part of a Parliament’s delegation to assess the rule of law in the country.
Freund said there was always a “bigger crisis,” like migration or the COVID-19 pandemic, preventing stringent measures against Poland, such as the application of Article 7, which could lead to temporarily stripping the country of its EU voting rights.
The Article 7 procedure was launched by the Commission in 2017, but it has not been carried out so far.
Almost 90 NGOs asked EU member states not to hesitate using the procedure, in a letter sent to EU ministers ahead of yesterday’s meeting.
Clément Beaune, French minister for European affairs, said the hearing helped “keep the pressure” on the country, but added that no other meeting on the rule of law in Poland is foreseen under the French EU Council presidency.
EU leaders will discuss the rule of law in Hungary in May.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]