Over the weekend, the European Commission launched legal action against Poland’s conservative government over the controversial new law that Warsaw claims is designed purely to reform the country’s judicial system. Under the new legislation, the justice minister will be able to unilaterally replace the chief justices of common courts. The move came on Saturday (29 July), a day after Warsaw published the law following the approval by President Andrzej Duda despite mass protests taking place in the country against the law. President Duda vetoed two other controversial reform bills. One of them would have given the government more control over the Supreme Court, the other would allow parliament to pick members of a body that is meant to protect the independence of the courts.
“The European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Poland by sending a letter of formal notice,” the EU’s executive said. Warsaw now has one month to reply to the Commission letter, which “raises concerns that […] the independence of Polish courts will be undermined”. The action could potentially bring Poland before the EU’s highest court, the European Court of Justice. The EU executive further warned Poland of even tougher measures if the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), which has been widely seen as a troublemaker since it won the Polish elections in late 2015, moves forward with deeper court reforms.
Polish President’s chief of staff Krzysztof Szczerski responded to the move that the Commission had “entered a path that leads nowhere”, saying that the organization of the courts was in the domain of sovereign decision of member states. “At a certain point, a reversal will be obligatory” for the Commission, which will face “increasingly high” costs for each step it takes, he said. Poland’s deputy foreign minister for European affairs, Konrad Szymanski, commented that the new law carried proper guarantees and the Commission’s action was “unfounded”.