Poland has until late June to settle a dispute with the European Commission over the independence of its courts that threatens Warsaw’s future access to funding from the bloc.
“I hope the Polish government will see that it has to take a few more steps for us to be able to declare that the systemic threat to the rule of law is no longer there,” Frans Timmermans, the EU executive’s deputy chief, told a press conference on May 14.
Timmermans, who oversees the Polish dossier for the EU, welcomed recent progress in negotiations with Warsaw but said more needed to be done.
As reported by the Reuters news agency, Timmermans updated European affairs ministers meeting in Brussels on the protracted dispute. And he said the next such meeting, due on June 26, would be the make-or-break moment.
Timmermans said he hoped to be able to announce enough progress then to revoke the unprecedented Article 7 punishment procedure against Poland for flouting the rule of law.
“The main issue remains how much political control can you have to be able to say that the judiciary is independent. We have some concerns there,” he said, citing an early end to the terms of Supreme Court judges and other judges under new laws in Poland as one example of outstanding issues.
The Article 7 procedure could theoretically lead to Poland losing its EU voting rights.
Brussels is also awaiting the Polish parliament’s formal adoption of new amendments to already-enacted judicial reforms.
According to Reuters, under these amendments, Poland’s Supreme Court would be more limited in its newly acquired ability to effectively overturn past verdicts, and the president (rather than the justice minister) would gain the right to appoint junior judges.
The concessions are aimed at assuaging EU concerns that the executive is amassing too much control over the judiciary.
Both tweaks still need to be approved by the upper chamber of parliament – which is dominated by the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) – and signed into law by the president, who is from the same party.