The European Commission opened on Wednesday a fourth legal case against Poland, for undermining judicial independence and breaching EU law, following the country’s controversial judicial reforms.
“Member states can reform their justice system, but they must do it without violating EU treaties. We have today launched an infringement procedure because there are strong legal bases for this,” Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Values said on Wednesday.
She also added that “the disciplinary regime can be used as a system of political control of the content of judicial decisions.” Her comments based on the fact that the judges of the disciplinary chamber are selected by the National Council of the Judiciary, which are in turn elected by the lower chamber of the Polish Parliament.
Since it came into power in 2015, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has brought controversial judicial reforms that led to the EU Commission triggering in 2017 the Article 7 of the EU Treaty, which could lead to deprivation of voting rights, saying that PiS posed “a clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law in Poland.”
Thereafter Warsaw has repeatedly clashed with Brussels, due to contradictions between Polish and EU law and the Union’s efforts to make Poland align with its founding values.
Poland’s recent law that came into force on February 14, allows for the punishment of judges if the latter criticise the country’s reforms of the judicial system. It also gives the ability to the country’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) to block judges from referring cases to the EU courts in Luxembourg and from applying European legislation in the country.
The Commission stressed that the law also prevents Polish courts from fulfilling their obligation to apply European law or to request preliminary rulings from CJEU. It also said that by requiring judges to reveal information on their non-professional activities, the country is violating the right to respect for private life.
“This is a European issue because Polish courts apply European law. Judges from other countries must trust that Polish judges act independently. This mutual trust is the foundation of our single market,” Jourová said during a press conference.
EU’s Executive arm gave Warsaw two months to reply to the letter of Formal Notice.
On April 8, the European Union’s top court (CJEU) ruled that Poland must immediately suspend a panel created to discipline judges, citing lack of independency and breach of EU law.