Poland’s government set up a clash with the European Commission after announcing the National Council of the Judiciary, which decides on selecting judges. But now Warsaw’s Supreme Court has ruled against the body, which also has the power to appoint members of a controversial new disciplinary chamber. The court ruled that judges appointed by the new institution are not judges under either Polish or EU law.
Last November, the European Court of Justice said the new body could undermine judicial independence in Poland.
The EU’s top court, however, left Polish courts to make the final decision on the government’s reforms.
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice government have argued that the changes are necessary to shed the remnants of the communist system.
Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro last week said: “We have nominated judges who, in our view, would be ready to cooperate in reforming the judicial system.”
Critics say the reforms undermine the independence of Poland’s judiciary because the National Council of the Judiciary relies on the government.
Elżbieta Witek, the Law and Justice speaker in the lower chamber of parliament, questioned the Supreme Court’s ability to make decisions about the judiciary system.
The Commission last year launched an Article 7 procedure – which can end in the removal of EU voting rights – against Poland over fears that the country was in breach of the bloc’s democratic standards.
Mateusz Morawiecki, the country’s prime minister, has predicted the EU will continue to send cash to Poland despite claims that it is in breach of the bloc’s rule of law.
Responding to suggestions that funds could be withdrawn, he said: “No, I don’t think so. I really think that more and more leaders understand that there is a need to reform the judiciary system in Poland.”
He added: “I disagree with unequal treatment of member states of the European Union. There are manifestations, demonstrations, on the streets of other capital cities, in 200,000, 500,000 people.
“In Poland, there is 5,000, maybe 7,000. Is this really a big demonstration? It’s a free country, and everybody can demonstrate what they want.”
The EU Parliament last week warned that the rule of law has “deteriorated” in Poland.
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Senior MEPs suggested that future funding should be made conditional on upholding the EU’s democratic standards.
Poland is the EU’s biggest net beneficiary, receiving billions of euros every year.
Last week Brussels announced plans to pay Poland, and other member states, to shut down coal power stations to improve the bloc’s green credentials.