The European Commission followed through Saturday on a promise to launch a legal procedure against Poland as soon as a new law overhauling the court system came into effect.
The Commission’s action is the latest move in a showdown between Brussels and Warsaw over plans by the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) to exert more control over the judiciary. The EU’s executive body, as well as critics at home and abroad, see the measures as a threat to the rule of law in Poland.
Taking the first step in a so-called infringement procedure, which is triggered when Brussels believes a country has broken EU law, the Commission gave Warsaw one month to respond to a range of concerns about the revamp of the legal system.
“The Commission’s key legal concern identified in the law on the organization of ordinary courts relates to the discrimination on the basis of gender due to the introduction of a different retirement age for female judges (60 years) and male judges (65 years),” the Commission said in a statement.
In its letter to Warsaw, the Commission also expressed concern that the independence of the courts would be undermined by giving the minister of justice “the power to prolong the mandate of judges who have reached retirement age, as well as to dismiss and appoint Court Presidents.”
The new law is part of a package of measures put forward by Poland’s ruling conservative party to take a tighter grip on the judiciary.
Its plans suffered a surprise reversal earlier this week when Polish President Andrzej Duda said he would veto two bills in the package, including one that would have forced the retirement of Supreme Court judges except those designated by the justice minister.
The Commission warned Poland this week that it risked losing its EU voting rights if it forced Supreme Court judges out of office.
But Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, pledged that the overhaul of the judiciary, as well as controversial media reforms, will continue.
The infringement procedure launched on Saturday could lead to the Commission taking Poland to the European Court of Justice if it concludes its concerns have not been addressed.
In Saturday’s statement, European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans, reiterated an invitation to meet with top Polish officials over the judiciary reforms “in the hope of a constructive dialogue.” So far, the Polish government has snubbed his invitations.
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