Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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Top EU court rules Polish judicial reforms violate bloc law  

The EU and Poland have been at odds over democratic backsliding since the country’s ruling Law and Justice party came to power in 2015.

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — The European Union’s highest court found on Monday that changes Poland made to its judiciary system in 2019 violate the bloc's rule of law standards and upheld nearly half a billion dollars in fines, in the latest battle over anti-democratic moves by the government in Warsaw. 

The European Court of Justice wrote in its lengthy ruling that reforms ostensibly aimed at ridding the country of corrupt judges from the Communist era – but which many see as punishing judges who disagree with the right-wing government – are incompatible with EU regulations for an independent and impartial judiciary. 

“The value of the rule of law is an integral part of the very identity of the European Union as a common legal order,” the Luxembourg-based court wrote in a ruling currently only available in French and Polish. 

It’s the fourth major loss Poland has been dealt by the court, which has previously found fault in how Supreme Court judges are appointed and for the justice minister having too much say in appointments

The court also upheld a 1 million euro ($1.07 million) daily fine issued by the European Commission for failing to comply with EU rules and found that Brussels can withhold pandemic recovery funds until Warsaw backs down. 

Poland has now racked up more than 500 million euros ($535 million) in fines, after the court’s vice president reduced the daily fine by half, to 500,000 euros ($535,000) per day. 

The country has already dismantled the court disciplinary chamber and scrapped a number of provisions from the so-called "muzzle law," which allowed for judges to be fired if they questioned the reforms. 

“The situation [in Poland] is better, but only because of the recovery funds,” said Jakub Jaraczewski, research coordinator at Democracy Reporting International, a Berlin-based nonprofit that promotes democracy, in an interview with Courthouse News. 

The EU was pleased with the ruling, which Jaraczewski says gives the 27-member organization more clarity in dealing with similar problems going forward. The EU’s justice commissioner, Didier Reynders, said the ruling demonstrated that rule of law requirements are “legally binding obligations for the member states.” 

In a statement on Twitter, Polish Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta dismissed the ruling, saying the EU “does not have the competence to assess the organization of the judiciary.” 

According to Jaraczewski, the EU can withhold the nearly billion euros in fines from payments to Poland, and the matter could end up back at the Court of Justice should the country still refuse to comply.

Monday’s ruling comes after a weekend of protests in Poland. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in anti-government protests, chanting “Democracy” and “Constitution.” Last week, the United States issued a statement expressing concern about a new law allowing the ruling party to block election candidates.

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Categories / Appeals, Courts, Government, International, Law, Politics

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