Polish Deputy Minister of Justice, Sebastian Kaleta, has criticized the double standards of the European Commission and its attempt at taking control over policy areas which it is not in charge of according to EU treaties.
In the interview, conducted by Marcin Makowski for Do Rzeczy weekly, the deputy minister stressed that the Polish government has adopted pieces of legislation on the court system which are in place in other EU states.
Mr. Kaleta says that the reformed National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), a body responsible for nominating judges and reviewing ethical complaints against sitting jurists, was modeled on its Spanish counterpart, the General Council of the Judiciary. It was from the Iberian peninsula that the Polish Ministry of Justice got the idea to have a part of the KRS constituted by judges who were elected to the position by the parliament.
The judicial disciplinary panel law which empowers the Disciplinary Chamber of the Polish Supreme Court to punish judges who are deemed to have engaged in political activity was borrowed from similar legislation which exists in France. Years of disputes with Brussels over judicial reform
Poland has been at odds with the European Commission over the country’s court system since 2016 when the commission launched a rule-of-law assessment under the provisions of Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union, in response to amendments made to the Constitutional Tribunal and public media law.
On December 20th 2017, the European Commission triggered article 7 for the first time in its history, claiming that the Polish judicial reform had weakened the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive to such a degree that Poland was in breach of the European values laid down in Article 2, with a special emphasis put on the rule of law.
The most recent bone of contention surrounding the judicial reform is the judicial disciplinary panel law which parliament approved on December 20th 2019. However, the Deputy-Minister of Justice underlined in the interview that even the dispute about the new bill is rooted in the reform of the KRS which was adopted in early 2018.
When asked about how the judicial reform has improved the court system, Mr. Kaleta answered that the new routine of assigning judges to cases through lottery and the removal of the requirement for a judge to read out loud full verdicts following a trial, which in complex cases could stall the judicial process for weeks or months, are examples of improvements provided by the reform. Opposition to Double Standards
Mr. Kaleta stressed that even if Poland has borrowed some components of its judicial reform from western EU states, it was impossible to do so in other cases as the new solutions would have to fit in with the legal framework provided by the Polish constitution.
Following a meeting with Vera Jourova, the European Commission’s Vice President for Values and Transparency, the Polish Minister of Justice, Zbigniew Ziobro, proposed to break the deadlock by Poland adopting a German model, in which judges are nominated directly by politicians.
Minister Ziobro did however point out that such a solution would require the Polish parliament to change the country’s constitution first, a move highly unlikely as it depend on the opposition parties to vote with the government, as a qualified majority of votes by ⅔ of MPs is needed to amend the constitution or adopt a new one.
According to Mr. Kaleta, the fact that the European Commission doesn’t have a problem with the German model based on politically appointed judges while launching Article 7 against Poland, is proof of the double standards the commission applies in the case. He continued by stating that such treatment if forbidden through provisions found in Article 4 on the Treaty of European Union which states that all member states are equal and that national differences, including constitutions must be respected.
Opening Pandora’s box
During the interview, Mr. Kaleta voiced his concern about the position taken by the largest Polish opposition party, Civic Platform, which has consistently supported Brussel’s measures directed against Poland in connection with the judicial reform. The deputy minister says that the opposition has worked against Poland’s national interest in the matter, arguing that since there are no provision in the EU treaties for the commission to involve itself in matters concerning the internal court system of its member states, the opposition is in fact helping Brussels open a gate which it may not be possible to close again.
Mr. Kaleta argues that if the commission were to be successful in its decision to coerce Poland by applying pressure, the commission could in the future meddle in other areas it currently has no influence on, such as fiscal policy and the common currency, or the ideological matters, including abortion, same-sex marriages and euthanasia.
The deputy minister ended the interview by stating his hope that the Constitutional Tribunal’s verdict on the reform of the KRS will settle a significant part of the dispute surrounding the judicial reform. The tribunal is expected to announce its verdict on March 4th.