The overhaul of the court systems in Poland and Hungary that threatens the independence of the judiciary are not isolated events. The European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ), the body that represents EU states’ judiciaries, said that those changes were seen as a “disease” that could spread to other EU member states and thus undermine democracy across the EU. ENCJ is reviewing the judiciary developments in Poland after the Polish government decided to tighten state control over the country’s courts. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban suggested setting up new administrative courts that would increase political influence over judges.
“The disease of Poland and Hungary could spread. It could spread to the neighboring countries,” the new head of the ENCJ, Kees Sterk, commented. “Who says that it won’t spread to other parts of Europe. What happens in Poland and in Hungary is not an (isolated) incident but it’s on a systemic level. That makes it different and that is also the worrying part.” Given this threatening situation, the EU has decided to potentially cut funding to Poland if it does not curb the policies that Brussels considers undemocratic and Warsaw has proposed some concessions. The EU Commission has given the Central European member state time until the end of June to make progress on the proposed amendments.
Despite this deadline, the Polish government of the Law and Justice (PiS) party has said that it is unlikely to do so. Meanwhile, the European Court of Justice is about to rule in June on a case brought by Dublin, which halted an extradition to Poland due to concerns over its judiciary. According to ENCJ, another country under risk is Romania, where there are concerns over the changes to judiciary that could make it more difficult to fight corruption. “The situation in Romania is a bit less worrying than in Poland and Hungary but we are not without worries,” Mr. Sterk said.