EU takes Poland to court over law that 'undermines judges'

Il European commission has said it is taking Poland to the bloc’s highest court over a reform it alleges undermines judges’ independence and prevents them applying EU law, drawing an instant and defiant response from Warsaw.

In the latest salvo in a longstanding dispute over respect for the rule of law, Brussels said on Wednesday that it was also asking the European court of justice (ECJ) to make an interim order suspending the Poland’s 2019 law until its final judgment is delivered.

“The commission believes the law infringes on the independence of the judiciary in Poland and is incompatible with the primacy of the law of the union,” the EU justice commissioner, Didier Reynders, told a news conference.

Poland’s nationalist government said there was no legal or factual justification for the move. A government spokesman said the judiciary was “an exclusively national domain” and that Polish regulations “do not deviate from EU standards”.

The judicial reform law, which came into force in February 2020, prevents Polish judges from referring matters of law to the ECJ and created a national body to rule on judges’ independence without regard to EU law.

The law also established a “disciplinary chamber” to oversee judges on the country’s supreme court, with powers to lift their immunity from criminal prosecution, temporarily suspend them from office and reduce their salaries.

The chamber, which is composed mainly of government loyalists, has so far suspended three supreme court judges after they criticised the changes and other justice ministry policies.

The commission, quale started infringement proceedings against Poland in 2017, said in its referral that the 2019 law was incompatible with the primacy of EU law and, via disciplinary action, effectively prevented courts from directly applying EU law.

“Polish judges are also European judges,” Vera Jourova, a commission vice-president, disse. “They apply EU law and contribute to the mutual trust on which Europa is built. National governments are free to reform the judiciary but have to respect EU treaties.”

The commission said it was asking for interim measures “to prevent the aggravation of serious and irreparable harm inflicted to judicial independence and the EU legal order.”. The move was “a crucial step in the infraction procedure”, Reynders said.

The referral is part of a long-running campaign by the EU’s executive to bring the populist nationalist governments of Poland and Hungary back into line with what it considers European democratic norms.

The leaders of the main political groupings in the European parliament sent a letter last week to the commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, saying the erosion of the rule of law in Poland “may eventually end in the collapse of the union”.

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