EC concerned over court reforms, rule of law in Poland

Following the dismissal of the Senate (upper house) resolution rejecting governmental court reforms by the Polish Sejm (lower house), the European Commission voiced “deep concern” over the condition of the rule of law in Poland. In response the Polish Foreign Ministry summoned the EC representative in Poland to protest against the body’s spokesman’s statement questioning the legality of Constitutional Tribunal.

EC spokesperson Christian Wigand said in Brussels that the Commission was highly concerned over the passage of the new court laws, and recalled that in December, the EC Vice-President Vera Jourova asked Poland to halt proceeding with the reforms until they were properly consulted.

Mr Wigand added that the EC would examine the compliance of the court legislation passed on Thursday with EU law, and if needs be, the body would not hesitate “to undertake necessary steps” in the matter.

He pointed out that EC has no doubts as to the legal authority of Poland's Supreme Court, but does have reservations over the legality of the country's Constitutional Tribunal.

On Friday evening, the Polish Foreign Ministry summoned the head of the European Commission representation in Poland to protest against Christian Wigand's statement. He is to arrive at the premises of the ministry on Saturday morning.

Government upholds its stance

On Friday, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) received a motion issued by the EC, in which it asks for the implementation of temporary measures regarding the Disciplinary Chamber of the Polish Supreme Court (SN).

“We uphold our stance: that member states’ judiciary regulations lie within these countries’ domain and do not constitute part of EU regulations,” said the government’s spokesman Piotr Müller.

Referring to the motion itself, Mr Müller stressed that it had not appeared after Thursday’s SN ruling, but it concerns the case from October 2019, when the EC questioned the independence and impartiality of the Disciplinary Chamber.

On the same day, the EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders met with the Polish Undersecretary of State Marcin Romanowski in Zagreb at the informal ministerial meeting of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council. Recent rulings of Polish courts, the opinion of the Venice Commission and a new rule of law mechanism were among the topics of discussion.

"Poland is ready to continue the dialogue and provide information on changes in the justice system. For us, the principle of equal treatment of all EU states and sovereignty in organising the country’s judiciary are fundamental,” Mr Romanowski said.

He pointed out that the document of the Venice Commission with remarks regarding the situation in the Polish judiciary system was “unacceptable with regard to its content.”

There is no return to the situation from before the implementation of the reform, because this is our priority. We shall not waive from it,” he concluded.

The act proposed by the Senate rejected a package of reformed court laws, which among others introduce disciplinary measures for judges. The laws are part of a broader reform of the Polish judicial system, over which Poland is in a pending conflict with the EC. According to the EC, the new court laws impair judicial independence and place courts under political influence.