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European Commission Takes Poland to Court Over Judicial Power Grab

EU Court Will Review Warsaw Government’s Attempts to Curb Judicial Independence

Supreme Court President Malgorzata Gersdorf addresses the supporters and the media before entering the Supreme Court building in Warsaw, Poland, July 4, 2018. © 2018 Reuters

The European Commission is usually pretty conflict averse. But after months of the Polish government ignoring calls from Brussels to halt its attempted takeover of the Supreme Court, the Commission yesterday finally referred the matter to the EU Court of Justice.

Since 2016, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party has sought to undermine the independence of the judiciary. It has adopted laws obstructing the work of the Constitutional Tribunal, one of the country’s two top courts, and enabling political interference in appointing and dismissing judges to the other, the Supreme Court, as well as to the common courts.

The final straw for the Commission was a law that came into force in July, that led to the sacking of one-third of the Supreme Court judges and increased political interference in appointing and dismissing new judges.

In addition to referring the matter to the EU Court of Justice, the Commission asked the court to order interim measures, which can block the contested law until European judges decide the case.

In July, the court ruled that national courts in Ireland (and other member states) could stop extraditions to Poland if they determined there was a risk of unfair trial. That decision cited the European Commission’s triggering of political sanction proceedings under the EU treaty against Poland over the threat its persistent actions pose to the values of the EU.

More recently, the European Network of the Councils of the Judiciary suspended the membership of Poland’s National Council for the Judiciary.

The Commission’s referral to the court is a welcome move and sends a clear message it is willing to stand up for EU values and to recalcitrant member states if dialogue yields no results.

The Polish government has so far refused to engage meaningfully with the concerns of EU institutions and governments about its assault on the judiciary. It even suggested in August that it might ignore the EU Court of Justice if it took up the case.

Warsaw’s EU partners should make clear that Poland is to abide by whatever the EU Court decides and should refrain from appointing new judges and from appointing new judges to the Supreme Court.  

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