Crisis time in Poland to tackle EU law dispute – Politico

WARSAW – Years of bitter fighting between Poland and the EU over accusations that the country’s nationalist government curbed the independence of its courts – which hold billions in EU funds – came to a head this week.

The Polish parliament will take a final vote on a bill that would roll back some of those reforms, aimed at meeting “milestones” set by the European Commission to release €36 billion in grants and loans from its pandemic recovery fund. Concerns remain that Poland is backsliding on the bloc’s rule of law principles.

Parliament’s lower house, the Sejm, moved into action on Monday, with the Justice and Human Rights Committee rejecting 14 amendments added to the bill by the opposition-controlled Senate. The full Sejm, narrowly controlled by the ruling United Right coalition, is expected to vote on the full bill by Wednesday. It will then go to President Andrzej Duda for signature.

However, this does not mean an immediate infusion of EU cash; The Commission must first assess whether the law meets its requirements. Brussels is pushing Poland to pass a reform of its restrictive laws on offshore wind energy that have killed almost all new development – a bill that is due to be voted on on Tuesday.

Warsaw is confident enough that the commission will accept the justice reform bill.

“[Justice] Commissioner [Didier] Reinders submitted the proposal to the commission for review and the commission assessed the bill positively,” Poland’s EU Affairs Minister Szymon Szynkowski told local media on Monday.

The commission did not respond to requests for comment.

The ruling Law and Justice (PIS) party is desperate for Brussels to release the money ahead of a parliamentary election due this fall.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told RMF FM radio on Friday that Poland “will apply for funds in consultation with the Commission in the near future.”

PiS needs to show voters that it has been able to make peace with the EU. Inflation is slowing but is expected to be in double digits by 2023. Economic growth is forecast to fall below 1 percent this year, down from 4.9 percent in 2022.

The ruling party is also embroiled in a scandal related to the ministry paying public money to public-friendly NGOs.

Judges and Politicians

The Judiciary Act would transfer matters of judicial discipline from the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Chamber, which is seen as under the influence of the government, to the Supreme Administrative Court, another apex court but which is seen as more independent.

Poland was hit with a record-high daily fine of €1 million starting in October 2021 for not complying with an EU court order to suspend the controversial sanctions.

The draft law would end sanctions against judges who question the status of fellow judges; Many of the new judges have dubious legal status due to government reforms that have changed the way they are recruited.

But critics have warned that this week’s changes are not the end of the road to war between Warsaw and Brussels, as the proposed solutions fail to address the main issue – political control over the judiciary.

“The new law is another slight improvement in disciplinary proceedings against judges, but the European Commission should not consider it a full realization of rule of law milestones,” said Jacob Zaraczewski, research coordinator at Democracy Reporting International, a Berlin-based NGO. .

“It would still allow judges to lack full independence to oversee disciplinary proceedings against other judges, a major issue highlighted in judgments by the Court of Justice of the EU and the European Court of Human Rights,” Zaraczewski said.

According to Bartłomiej Przymusiński from Iustitia, a judicial organization critical of the government’s efforts to restructure the court system, a third of the judges of the Supreme Administrative Court are not completely independent of political influence.

They were appointed by the politically neutral National Council of the Judiciary, a body reformed in 2017 by PiS that the European Court of Human Rights said in a 2021 ruling was “no longer providing sufficient guarantees of independence from legislative or executive powers.”

“It is true that Strasbourg has not ruled yet [administrative court judges]Unlike Supreme Court justices,” Przymusinski said.

“Once that happens, the government may find itself cornered, because it has never addressed the root of the problem. It’s like treating a fever without knowing what caused it,” added Przymusinki.