EU Cries Foul Over|Poland’s Court Meddling

     (CN) — The European Commission on Wednesday expressed concern for the rule of law in Poland, citing ongoing political turmoil that has spilled into the nation’s constitutional court.
     The crisis began in October 2015, after Poland’s Civic Platform Party — anticipating it would lose an election — appointed five constitutional tribunal judges, two of whom replaced judges whose terms didn’t expire until after the election.
     Poland’s Law and Justice Party won the election and proceeded to appoint its own judges to the tribunal, claiming the Civic Platform’s appointments were unconstitutional. The party then changed the court’s decision-making power by requiring two-thirds majority votes and mandatory participation by at least 13 of 15 judges on the court — a move that led to protests and counter-protests by the Polish people into early 2016.
     The changes have also drawn sharp criticism from the European Union, of which Poland is a member. European Parliament president Martin Schultz described the situation as a “Putinization” of Europe, while some German leaders have called for economic sanctions against Poland.
     After warning Polish lawmakers that their actions have serious implications on the rule of law earlier this year — and after Poland’s parliament made some more changes this past week — the European Commission on Wednesday offered official recommendations Poland must consider to protect the rule of law.
     Besides the appointment of judges and changes to the court’s decision-making process, the commission said it’s concerned that the constitutional tribunal is not publishing its decisions, purposely delaying hearings and requiring that cases be heard chronologically with few exceptions. It also expressed concerns that the tribunal is being barred from conducting a constitutional review of legislative actions.
     “The commission believes that there is a systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland,” the commission said in a statement. “The fact that the Constitutional Tribunal is prevented from fully ensuring an effective constitutional review adversely affects its integrity, stability and proper functioning, which is one of the essential safeguards of the rule of law in Poland. Where a constitutional justice system has been established, its effectiveness is a key component of the rule of law.”
     In its recommendations, the commission said Poland must allow the three judges who were lawfully nominated by the Civic Platform Party to take their seat on the bench, and that the three judges illegally appointed by Law and Justice Party should step down until properly elected.
     Furthermore, the commission said the tribunal must publish its decisions in the official record, and that lawmakers must allow the tribunal to conduct a full constitutional review of the new law adopted on July 22.
     “Despite the dialogue pursued with the Polish authorities since the beginning of the year, the commission considers the main issues which threaten the rule of law in Poland have not been resolved,” commission first vice president Frans Timmermans said Wednesday. “We are therefore now making concrete recommendations to the Polish authorities on how to address the concerns so that the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland can carry out its mandate to deliver effective constitutional review.”
     The Polish government has three months to implement the commission’s recommendations. If it fails to do so, the EU Council will step in with either a warning or sanctions if two-thirds of the members find that a serious breach in the rule of law is ongoing.

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