Poland’s hopes of billions in EU recovery funds were dashed after President Andrzej Duda sent a landmark bill that would return judicial reforms to the top court for trial.
The bill is a key part of “milestones” agreed between Warsaw and Brussels, without which the European Commission will not release 36 billion euros in grants and loans from its pandemic recovery fund – amid concerns that Poland is falling behind the bloc’s regime. – Principles of law.
But on Friday evening, Duda said he would not sign the law and instead sent it to the Constitutional Tribunal, a body that decides whether laws comply with the Polish constitution.
In a national address, Duda said he had “decided to refer the law to the Constitutional Tribunal under preventive control. That is, the law will not come into effect until the tribunal rules on its constitutionality.
It’s a huge blow to the Nationalist government, which is desperate for EU cash ahead of parliamentary elections this fall when the ruling Law and Justice (PIS) party will seek a third term in office.
Duda is closely allied with PiS, but he is in his second term as president and cannot run for a third term, giving him more independence from the party. This was one of the first signs of rebellion from Duda, who was usually fairly calm.
Although Duda’s office helped prepare the initial draft of the bill last year, he is unhappy with the final form created after negotiations between Brussels and Warsaw, as he believes it undermines his nominee judges.
“The government has reached a new agreement, and it is good that it has happened, but this agreement raises serious constitutional debates,” he said.
There was little initial response from the government except dry comments from spokesman Piotr Mueller, who Tweet“[W]Will wait for e [tribunal’s] decision.”
The tribunal is widely seen as under the influence of PIS, with several judges appointed in violation of the constitution — one of the many sources of conflict between the government and the European Commission. Although Duda insisted the tribunal could issue a ruling quickly, the 16-member court is also in disarray, with several judges rebelling against its president – which would make any decision difficult.
The Commission is unlikely to make a decision on releasing any funds until the Judicial Reform Bill is enacted; Brussels sees it as key to restoring some independence to the Polish judiciary, which has been deeply reformed by PiS since the party came to power in 2015.
The law transferred judicial disciplinary matters from the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Chamber, which is seen as under government influence, 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 changed the way they were recruited.