The European Commission announced on July 2 that it had opened another legal case against Poland for legislative changes made to the country’s Supreme Court, which critics says undermines the body’s independence and fundamental principals of the rule of law.
According to the Commission’s assessment, from July 3, 27 of 72 Supreme Court judges face the risk of being forced into retirement due to the fact that the new law lowers the retirement age of Supreme Court judges from 70 to 65. A
A decision by Polish President Andrzej Duda to prolong the judges’ mandate is possible, but according to the Commission, no previous legal mechanisms have been established for Duda to step in at this juncture and there is no possibility for a judicial review.
“The Commission is of the opinion that these measures undermine 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 the European Union read in connection with Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,” according to a statement released by Brussels.
Due to the urgency of the matter, Poland has exactly one month to formally respond to the Commission’s motion, the first step of the infringement procedure.
“While the Polish Supreme Court law has already been discussed in the Rule of Law dialogue between the Commission and the Polish authorities, it has not been satisfactorily addressed through this process. The Commission believes that the introduction of a consultation of the National Council for the Judiciary (NCJ) does not constitute an effective safeguard, as argued by the Polish authorities,” the Commission said while underlining the non-binding nature of the NCJ’s opinion and the vague criteria that serves as its foundation
In addition to the above, following the reform of December 8, 2017, the NCJ is now composed of members appointed by the Polish Parliament, marking another point of Poland’s judicial independence deficiency, according to European standards.
But while the Commission decided to launch this infringement procedure, the EU executive stands ready to continue the ongoing rule of law dialogue with Poland, which remains the Commission’s preferred channel for resolving the systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland.