EU de­fied as Warsaw politi­cises ju­di­ciary

Waikato Times Weekend - - WORLD -

POLAND: Poland trig­gered a show­down be­tween eastern and west­ern Europe yes­ter­day when its MPs voted to give par­lia­ment the power to ap­point supreme court judges, de­spite the threat of sanc­tions from Brus­sels.

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion had warned that the leg­is­la­tion would un­der­mine the sep­a­ra­tion of ju­di­cial and po­lit­i­cal pow­ers, seen as a cor­ner­stone of democ­racy and the rule of law.

On Thurs­day it gave Poland a week to re­think the plans and to avoid sanc­tions: the sus­pen­sion of its full EU mem­ber­ship by the with­drawal of its vot­ing rights, a mea­sure that has never been used against a mem­ber state.

This en­raged the Pol­ish govern­ment, which yes­ter­day won the back­ing of Hun­gary to re­sist Euro­pean of­fi­cials. Ten­sions have been run­ning high in some of the for­mer com­mu­nist na­tions, which are re­sist­ing the EU’s in­sis­tence that ev­ery mem­ber state must take a share of refugees.

The lat­est dis­pute be­gan when Poland’s rul­ing Law and Jus­tice Party rushed through a bill pro­posed only last week to give the jus­tice min­is­ter the power to ap­point judges to the supreme court. Fur­ther pow­ers for the min­is­ter to or­gan­ise the work of the court and de­cide which judges should re­main were switched to the pres­i­dent un­der an amend­ment de­signed to make it more palat­able to Brus­sels.

The bill fol­lowed one ap­proved last week, giv­ing par­lia­ment con­trol over the Na­tional Coun­cil of the Ju­di­ciary.

‘‘Col­lec­tively, they would abol­ish any re­main­ing ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence and put the ju­di­ciary un­der full po­lit­i­cal con­trol of the govern­ment,’’ Frans Tim­mer­mans, vice-pres­i­dent of the com­mis­sion, said, adding that the changes would ‘‘con­sid­er­ably in­crease the sys­temic threat to the rule of law’’.

"This is very dan­ger­ous for the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem we are liv­ing in."

Mal­go­rzata Gers­dorf, pres­i­dent of the supreme court

Pol­ish MPs voted by 235 to 192, with 23 ab­sten­tions, to pass the bill and send it to the up­per house to­day, where it is cer­tain to pass thanks to the Law and Jus­tice Party’s ma­jor­ity there.

The fi­nal step to be­com­ing law will be the sig­na­ture of Pres­i­dent An­drzej Duda, a lawyer who used to be a Law and Jus­tice MP, but who ran as an in­de­pen­dent for the pres­i­dency in 2015. Crowds gath­ered in Warsaw and Wro­claw yes­ter­day call­ing for him to veto the bill.

Don­ald Tusk, the for­mer prime min­is­ter of Poland who is now pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil, called for a so­lu­tion to a ‘‘very se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tion’’. He has pro­posed a meet­ing with Duda to try to avoid ‘‘bleak out­comes which could ul­ti­mately lead to the marginal­i­sa­tion of Poland in Europe’’.

Duda’s of­fice said the pres­i­dent had re­jected the of­fer of a meet­ing with Tusk.

Dur­ing yes­ter­day’s de­bate, Adam Bod­nar, Poland’s hu­man rights om­buds­man, told par­lia­ment that the leg­is­la­tion would ‘‘de­prive cit­i­zens of the right to an in­de­pen­dent court’’, adding: ‘‘We are plant­ing an ex­plo­sive un­der our ju­di­ciary.’’

Law and Jus­tice said it wanted to shake up the top court be­cause it had become a ‘‘state within a state’’ and lacked ac­count­abil­ity. It was heav­ily crit­i­cised for mak­ing po­lit­i­cal ap­point­ments to the con­sti­tu­tional court in 2015, but es­caped EU cen­sure.

Jaroslaw Kaczyn­ski, chair­man of the party, said that ‘‘far-reach­ing, rad­i­cal ac­tions’’ were re­quired be­cause the ju­di­ciary had not been re­formed since com­mu­nist times and was in­ef­fi­cient.

Op­po­si­tion politi­cians, judges and Euro­pean of­fi­cials crit­i­cised the vote.

Grze­gorz Schetyna, head of Civic Plat­form, the main op­po­si­tion party, de­nounced the bill as an ‘‘an­nounce­ment of a coup’’.

Mal­go­rzata Gers­dorf, pres­i­dent of the supreme court, said the bill would trans­form it into a ‘‘court at­tached to the jus­tice min­istry’’.

She added: ‘‘This is very dan­ger­ous for the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem we are liv­ing in.’’

Krys­tian Markiewicz, pres­i­dent of Iusti­tia, the Pol­ish judges’ as­so­ci­a­tion, also de­scribed the pro­posed change to the law as a ‘‘coup’’.

‘‘The rule of law and democ­racy are end­ing, the in­de­pen­dence of pow­ers is over,’’ Markiewicz said. ‘‘The min­is­ter will ap­point the judges that he favours.’’

He added that the mea­sure was in­tro­duced ‘‘at night, com­pletely out of the blue, with no so­cial con­sul­ta­tion’’ and ‘‘does not fit into EU stan­dards’’.

– The Times

Satur­day, July 22, 2017

waika­to­times.co.nz

PHOTO: REUTERS

People protest against supreme court leg­is­la­tion in Wro­claw, Poland. They say it will politi­cise the coun­try’s ju­di­ciary.

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