Roll back judiciary reforms or you will get no recovery funds, EU’s von der Leyen tells Poland

Roll back judiciary reforms or you will get no recovery funds, EU’s von der Leyen tells Poland
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw October 29, 2021

Poland must remove its "unlawfully established disciplinary regime" for judges in order to receive money from the EU’s pandemic recovery fund, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on October 28. 

Poland and the EU are feuding over the former’s judiciary reforms, which, Brussels says, undermine the independence and impartiality of the judges and thus the EU’s very fundamental principle of rule of law.

Poland opposes that view, saying that the EU is usurping power in an area that is member states’ sole competence. Warsaw has ignored a number of rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union, which enraged the EU.

Brussels is going to hold up billions of euros from the recovery fund unless Poland complies, von der Leyen said.

“We want … a clear commitment to dismantle the disciplinary chamber [of the Supreme Court], end or reform the disciplinary regime, and reinstall judges,” the Commission president said.

“I think it’s doable I hope that we will reach an agreement but the reform part is conditio sine qua non,” von der Leyen added. 

Poland stands to receive €36bn in grants and loans from the recovery fund. The money is the backbone of the government’s so-called “Polish Deal,” a wide-reaching investment plan. That, in turn, is a major part of the government’s strategy to win the third term in office in the election due in 2023.

The CJEU on October 27 fined Poland €1mn a day for not dismantling the disciplinary chamber of the Supreme Court. Poland says it is not going to pay because the court’s order was “unlawful”, Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta tweeted in reaction.

Kaleta referred to a ruling by the government-engineered Constitutional Court, which said in early October that the articles of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) pertaining to judiciary matters are incompatible with the Polish Constitution.

In a related development on the same day, the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ), an organisation of EU bodies representing judges, voted to expel Poland’s National Council of the Judiciary (KRS).

The KRS is Poland's judge-appointing body that was overhauled by the government amidst concerns that the overhaul served to secure the executive branch's influence on who becomes a judge, possibly a lenient one.

The ENCJ suspended the KRS in September 2018, stripping the Polish body of its voting rights and excluding it from participation in ENCJ activities. 

“The KRS does not safeguard the independence of the judiciary, it does not defend the judiciary, or individual judges, in a manner consistent with its role as guarantor, in the face of any measures which threaten to compromise the core values of independence and autonomy,” the ENCJ said in a statement.