Poland: EU ends historic fundamental values ​​procedure

Poland: EU ends historic fundamental values ​​procedure

For years, Poland was one of the EU’s biggest problem children. However, after the PiS government was voted out, there are now changes and an important decision from Brussels.

After years of serious concerns, the EU no longer sees any threat to the rule of law in Poland and is therefore ending a procedure to protect fundamental European values. The responsible EU Commission announced this on Wednesday in Brussels.

The decision to discontinue the so-called Article 7 procedure comes around seven months after the national conservative PiS government, which had led Poland from 2015 to 2023, was voted out. The government had restructured the Polish judicial system and, according to experts, thus restricted the separation of powers.

Specifically, the possibility was created to control and sanction judges. In addition, the reforms prevented Polish judges from turning to the European Court of Justice on certain legal issues. The new center-left government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk is currently in the process of reversing the contested measures.

Proceedings against Poland were an EU first

In 2017, Poland was the very first EU country against which the European Commission initiated proceedings for endangering the fundamental values ​​of the European Union. In theory, this could even have led to the withdrawal of voting rights in EU decisions.

The only EU country against which Article 7 proceedings are still ongoing is Hungary. There, Prime Minister Viktor Orban is suspected of restricting the independence of the judiciary and freedom of expression and of promoting corruption.

In order to make an end to the proceedings against Poland possible, Tusk’s new government had already presented its EU partners with a reform plan to eliminate rule of law deficits in February. This also led to the EU Commission, independently of the Article 7 procedure, releasing EU funding amounting to 6.3 billion euros that had long been held back due to rule of law concerns.

PiS tries to make reversal more difficult

By deciding to end the proceedings against Poland, the EU Commission is also expressing its trust in the new government in Warsaw. Reversing the criticized reforms of the PiS government will take some time. The “repair package” for the restructuring of the Constitutional Court provides for a constitutional amendment that will remove all current judges from office and fill the positions with new ones, with the government and opposition deciding on the appointments. However, the constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in parliament, which is not yet in sight due to the resistance of the PiS.

Immediately after taking office in November 2015, the PiS government in Poland, under the leadership of Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, began to restructure the judiciary according to its ideas. The first step was the Constitutional Court. The PiS government did not recognise three constitutional judges appointed before it came to power and filled the posts with its own candidates, which was later declared unconstitutional by both the Constitutional Court itself and the EU Commission. The chairman of the court was later replaced by lawyer Julia Przylebska, a close confidante of PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Law needs Duda’s signature

The dismantling of other elements of the PiS judicial reform is also proving to be lengthy and difficult. This also applies, for example, to a reorganization of the National Judicial Council – the body that nominates judges for vacant positions. After a reform introduced by the PiS in 2018, 15 of the 25 members of the council were appointed by parliament. This step also brought Poland into conflict with the EU Commission. After a lawsuit, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) criticized the National Judicial Council as a body that was “significantly reorganized by the Polish executive and legislative branches” and there were legitimate doubts about its independence.

A draft law presented by Justice Minister Adam Bodnar stipulates that in future judges from different courts will again be the sole appointors of the 15 seats in the National Judicial Council. As soon as the law comes into force, the National Judicial Council will be re-elected – the old body formed according to PiS rules will be replaced. The law still has to pass parliament and be signed by President Andrzej Duda. However, he comes from the ranks of PiS and could torpedo it.

Source: Stern

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