The European Commission on September 24 decided to refer Poland to the Court of Justice of the EU due to the violations of the principle of judicial independence created by the new Polish Law on the Supreme Court.
As previously reported, the new Polish law on the Supreme Court lowers the retirement age of Supreme Court judges from 70 to 65, putting 27 out of 72 sitting Supreme Court judges at risk of being forced to retire. This measure also applies to the First President of the Supreme Court, whose 6-year mandate, set out in the Polish Constitution, would be prematurely terminated.
Under new legislation, which entered into force on April 3, the judges affected by the lowered retirement age are given the possibility to request a prolongation of their mandate, which can be granted by the President of the Republic for a period of three years, and renewed once.
However, there are no clear criteria established for the President’s decision and no judicial review is available if he rejects the request.
As reported by a European Commission press release, the only safeguard proposed by the Polish authorities is a non-binding consultation of the National Council for the Judiciary, a body which is now composed in violation of European standards on judicial independence.
The European Commission maintains that the Polish law on the Supreme Court is incompatible with EU law as it undermines the principle of judicial independence, including the irremovability of judges, and thereby Poland fails to fulfil its obligations under Article 19(1) of the Treaty on European Union read in connection with Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
In a separate report, Radio Poland online noted that Poland’s European affairs minister has previously said that Poland would defend the changes to its judiciary.
According to the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) Group in the European Parliament, there is no more time to lose.
“Although the article 7 procedure was launched, we’ve seen the situation in Poland deteriorate even further. Soon there could no longer be an independent judiciary in Poland,” warned S&D leader Udo Bullmann. “We strongly stand by the European Commission’s decision to refer the case to the European Court in Luxembourg. It is clear that for the nationalist-minded PiS government it was never an option to step back and withdraw from the controversial reforms. They have already destroyed the country’s Constitutional Court and totally politicized the National Council of Judiciary, and since July, they are dismantling the Supreme Court, the last bastion of the Polish judiciary.
“Now it’s time for the European Court to act, to defend the rule of law in Poland. It will be for the sake of Poland and Polish citizens. It is also about defending the European project of a Union built on our common, liberal values. We have to make sure that the rights of Poles, as with all EU citizens, to live in a free, open and democratic society are protected,” added Bullmann.
In a similar vein, S&D MEP Claude Moraes, chair of LIBE committee and an EP Standing Rapporteur on Poland, said it’s now up to MEPs to play their full role. “We have done our homework; we have presented our case to journalists. I am clear that the European Commission’s action is justified and now the European Parliament must have a full discussion on the alleged breaches of the treaty,” said Moraes.