The European Commission has launched an infringement procedure against Poland’s government after the nation ignored repeated warnings by Brussels to not proceed with long-promised judicial reform measures.
Having already previously made multiple threats, the European Commission [EC] sent a Letter of Formal Notice to the governing Law and Justice party [Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc, PiS] on Saturday, July 29th, a day after the publication of the government policy document outlining the forthcoming changes.
The EC stated they had a ‘key legal concern’ in court laws requiring female judges to retire at the age of 60, while their male counterparts would continue to work until 65, which they said is seen as contrary to gender equality in employment.
The EC has also set out their concerns with giving the justice minister too much power to dismiss and appoint court presidents.
“The new rules allow the Minister of Justice to exert influence on individual ordinary judges, through, in particular, the vague criteria for the prolongation of their mandates thereby undermining the principle of irremovability of judges” the EC stated in a press release.
Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) explained in a statement on Saturday that the judge’s retirement age was simply adjusted to match the national ages of retirement for both sexes, which has been in force since the Law and Justice government repealed the previous retirement reform. Before the latest reforms, both men and women had to work until 67.
The MFA stressed that ‘social policy and organisation of the judiciary fall within the competence of the member states’ and that the issues would be ‘set out in detail in a Polish position on the European Commission’s reservations.’
The legal action against Poland comes after the EC’s vice president Hans Timmermans, who has in the past branded Viktor Orban an anti-Semite for criticising George Soros, said Wednesday that Article 7, a legal process that would suspend Poland’s voting rights, could be triggered if Poland continued down the path they were taking.
Responding to Timmerman’s threats in a press conference on the same day, Poland’s justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro said: “I would like to ask Mr Timmermans to stop addressing Poland, the Polish people and the Polish government with such arrogance, because we deserve some respect.
“We have personal and national pride and would expect you to be respectful, even if we sometimes disagree.”
Ziobro said the government would take advantage of their democratic mandate, going ahead with the reforms and not ‘succumb to any pressure or threats.’
“Poland requires a peaceful judicial reform. The court system in Poland is one of the greatest ills of Polish society and the courts work very badly. Mr Timmermans and his friends may not understand this because they don’t have such problems,” he stated.
Largely left wing protests against the government’s court reformation have taken to the streets in Poland in recent weeks, despite polls showing that the majority of Poles wish to see judicial reform.
Prior to Brussels triggering legal action, Poland’s president Andrzej Duda had already vetoed two of the three judicial reform bills.
President Duda explained he still felt the judicial system required reformation and promised that he would introduce his own versions of the legislation over the next two months.
“I’m absolutely a supporter of this reform, but a wise reform,” the president said after vetoing the bills.
The Commission have given Poland one month to reply to their Letter of Formal Notice, after which, upon examining their response or if no observations have been submitted, they threaten to move on to the second stage of the infringement procedure.