The European Commission has taken a brand new legal action against Poland over changes to the country’s Supreme Court. The EU executive fears that with the new changes that will see one-third of Supreme Court judges retired unless granted an extension by President Andrzej Duda, there is further risk that Poland’s judicial independence will be undermined. “The Commission is of the opinion that these measures undermine the principle of judicial independence, including the irremovability of judges,” it said in a statement. Warsaw has a month to respond, which means that the legal action will not stop the changes from entering into force now.
The Commission has challenged a number of changes to Poland’s judiciary since the nationalist party ‘Law and Justice’ (PiS) won the elections in late 2015, saying that the PiS reforms weaken democratic checks and balances. The party in turn says that they are needed to reform a system which dates back to communist times. “This law is currently binding and we will not be changing anything here … For the time being, our stance is that we are right,” Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said.
The Polish minister also noted that his country would argue in the European Court of Justice that changes to the judiciary are the responsibility of member states. “We are waiting for the decision. Until today Poland has always observed the court’s ruling, including the one on logging in the Bialowieza forest,” he said, referring to another dispute that has negatively affected relations between Brussels and Warsaw. The EU has initiated investigations into the EU’s highest court, saying that Poland breached environmental laws with large-scale logging in the ancient forest.