Developments in the Rule of Law issue in Poland

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Series Details January - June 2018
Publication Date 15/05/2018
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Background information:

Over a period of two years, the Polish authorities adopted more than 13 laws affecting the entire structure of the justice system in Poland, impacting the Constitutional Tribunal, Supreme Court, ordinary courts, National Council for the Judiciary, prosecution service and National School of Judiciary. The common pattern was that the executive and legislative branches had been systematically enabled to politically interfere in the composition, powers, administration and functioning of the judicial branch.

One of the main issue was related to the discrimination on the basis of gender due to the introduction of a different retirement age for female judges (60 years) and male judges (65 years). This was contrary to Article 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and Directive 2006/54 on gender equality in employment.

The European Commission had concluded that there was a clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law in Poland and, whilst remaining open to any constructive dialogue with Poland, the Commission had proposed on 20 December 2017 (the same day the 4th Recommendation on the Rule of Law was issued) to the Council to adopt a decision under Article 7(1) of the Treaty on European Union..

Judicial reforms in Poland meant that the country's judiciary was now under the political control of the ruling majority. In the absence of judicial independence, serious questions were raised about the effective application of EU law, from the protection of investments to the mutual recognition of decisions in areas as diverse as child custody disputes or the execution of European Arrest Warrants.

The EU gave Warsaw three months to remedy the situation, saying it could withdraw the measures if it did. At the same time, being the biggest beneficiary of EU funds, which were earmarked for infrastructure and other projects, Poland was increasingly worried by calls from wealthier western European countries to make respect for the bloc’s rules and standards on democracy and rule of law a precondition for receiving EU funds.

The deputy head of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, briefed other EU member states on the state of play in relations with Poland on 27 February 2018, but they delayed taking any action until after the 20 March 2018 deadline. He underlined that Poland started a dialogue with Brussels. On 8 March 2018 the Polish government issued the White Paper in which it presented the implications of the judiciary reform, as well as the comparison of judicial systems in the member states and handed it to the Commission.

On the 9 April 2018 Frans Timmermans urged Poland to step up efforts at finding a solution to the dispute over its controversial judicial reforms, denounced by Brussels as violating the rule of law.

Poland’s lower house of parliament on 12 April 2018 approved changes to judiciary reforms in a bid to soothe European Union concerns that the rule of law in Poland would be weakened. The EU’s executive signalled that a deal could be reached very soon, meaning the EU would take off the table a threat to punish Warsaw through a procedure that could go as far as suspending its vote in the bloc.

Related Link(s)
Radio Poland, 17.04.18: EU official says Poland must do more over rule of law concerns: report http://thenews.pl/1/10/Artykul/359303,EU-official-says-Poland-must-do-more-over-rule-of-law-concerns-report
ECFR: Commentary, 26.06.18: The EU’s decisive moment in Poland http://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_eus_decisive_moment_in_poland
EurActiv, 16.01.18: Poland banks on ‘dialogue’ to solve EU rule-of-law row https://www.euractiv.com/section/justice-home-affairs/news/poland-banks-on-dialogue-to-solve-eu-rule-of-law-row/
European Parliament: News, 27.02.18: Rule of law concerns in Poland: how the Article 7 procedure would work http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/eu-affairs/20180222STO98434/rule-of-law-concerns-in-poland-how-the-article-7-procedure-would-work
Reuters, 23.02.18: Poland wins temporary EU reprieve in fight over rule of law https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-poland/poland-wins-temporary-eu-reprieve-in-fight-over-rule-of-law-idUSKCN1G71IC
EurActiv, 16.02.18: Poland critical of linking EU funds to rule of law https://www.euractiv.com/section/central-europe/news/poland-critical-of-linking-eu-funds-to-rule-of-law/
EUObserver, 27.02.18: EU urges Poland to respond to rule of law concerns https://euobserver.com/political/141134
EurActiv, 31.01.18: European Parliament to vote on ‘nuclear option’ against Poland https://www.euractiv.com/section/central-europe/news/european-parliament-to-vote-on-atomic-option-against-poland/
Politico, 20.03.18: Frans Timmermans: Poland’s rule of law paper ‘not the answer’ https://www.politico.eu/article/frans-timmermans-mateusz-morawiecki-poland-rule-of-law-paper-not-the-answer/
Euronews, 20.12.17: What is ‘Article 7’ and why was it triggered against Poland? http://www.euronews.com/2017/12/20/what-is-article-7-and-why-was-it-triggered-against-poland-
Reuters, 11.04.18: EU looks to resolve 'very soon' row with Poland over rule of law https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-poland/eu-looks-to-resolve-very-soon-row-with-poland-over-rule-of-law-idUSKBN1HI2VF
EurActiv, 10.04.18: Timmermans urges quick solution to Poland’s court reform dispute https://www.euractiv.com/section/future-eu/news/timmermans-urges-quick-solution-to-polands-court-reform-dispute/
EurActiv, 09.03.18: Juncker ‘will assess’ Poland’s anti-Article 7 warnings https://www.euractiv.com/section/future-eu/news/juncker-will-assess-polands-warnings-against-triggering-article-7/
EurActiv, 13.04.18: Poland takes step back in court reform to please EU, voters https://www.euractiv.com/section/justice-home-affairs/news/poland-takes-step-back-in-court-reform-to-please-eu-voters/
Politico, 06.04.18: EU’s Timmermans to visit Poland to talk rule of law https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-commission-frans-timmermans-to-visit-poland-to-talk-rule-of-law/
EurActiv, 18.04.18: Timmermans on rule of law in Poland: Concessions are still insufficient https://www.euractiv.com/section/central-europe/news/timmermans-on-rule-of-law-in-poland-concessions-are-still-insufficient/
EurActiv, 15.05.18: EU urges ‘more progress’ from Poland by next month https://www.euractiv.com/section/justice-home-affairs/news/eu-urges-more-progress-from-poland-by-next-month/
Verfassungsblog: Blog, 12.06.18: Dusting off the Old Precedent – Why the Commission Must Stick to the Art. 7 Procedure Against Poland https://verfassungsblog.de/dusting-off-the-old-precedent-why-the-commission-must-stick-to-the-art-7-procedure-against-poland/
EUObserver, 17.04.18: Poland urged to settle EU rule of law concerns next month https://euobserver.com/political/141627

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