Poland is willing to consider a compromise with the European Union on its selection of judges under certain conditions, its justice minister said yesterday after talks with a senior EU official on rule of law concerns.
“I declared readiness to convince my colleagues from the ruling camp to consider coming up with a new model for choosing judges,” Zbigniew Ziobro said after meeting EU Values and Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourova in Warsaw.
Jourova, however, said she did not gather from the meeting that any compromise had been proposed, adding that the discussion focused on differences in position and these were very clear.
She added that the door to a dialogue between Poland and the EU on judicial reform was open and that the EU hoped to find a long-term solution to tensions between Warsaw and Brussels.
“But at the same time I am concerned about the smear campaign against the (Polish) judges,” Jourova told reporters after meeting with Poland’s Ombudsman Adam Bodnar yesterday.
“I would like to do more to protect the judges against the campaign against them because this is not the atmosphere where I can imagine the judges can do their demanding job,” she added. “I would wish to have a good long-term solution ... the campaign against the judges is something very harmful.”
Last week the country’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accused the Supreme Court of “destabilising the legal order”.
Since coming to power in 2015, Poland’s eurosceptic, nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party has introduced a series of judicial reforms which EU officials and democracy activists say may breach the bloc’s standards on rule of law.
Last week, Poland’s Supreme Court said that rulings made by judges appointed under new government rules could be challenged, resulting in a number of cases being postponed.
On the same day, parliament passed a law that critics say aims to muzzle judges.
The European Commission has asked the EU’s highest court to freeze the new law, which allows for disciplining judges critical of government changes to the judiciary.
The European Commission said last week it was “very concerned” about the situation – a message it has repeated since the law was proposed late last year.
The threat for Poland is that Brussels may limit funding for countries that infringe the rule of law, said Polish Senate speaker and opposition politician Tomasz Grodzki, who was one of the first officials to meet Jourova yesterday.
“(I want) to have a message back for (European Commission President) Ursula von der Leyen ... that the door for the dialogue with Poland is open,” Jourova told journalists in Warsaw.
The right-wing populist PiS argues that the reforms tackle corruption in a judicial system still stuck in the communist era.
Critics, who include top European judicial bodies, say the changes undermine the rule of law and threaten democracy.
Already last week the PiS-controlled parliament approved a reform that proposes disciplining judges who question the government’s reforms.
Although critics have objected that this would gag dissenting voices, Polish President Andrzej Duda has made it clear he is ready to sign the bill into law.
PiS spokeswoman Anita Czerwinska said yesterday that “we are open to dialogue with the European Commission”.
But she denounced what she called Brussel’s “double standards” regarding its responses to Poland versus other EU member states.
The PiS government has asked Poland’s constitutional court to examine whether the Supreme Court, the top judicial body, has the right to rule on the legitimacy of judges appointed under its reforms.
The European Commission said last week that the independence and legitimacy of the constitutional court had been undermined by PiS reforms.
Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted yesterday to open a monitoring procedure against Poland with regard to the rule of law, the first time such a procedure has been opened against an EU member state.
Poland joins 10 other Council of Europe member countries under full monitoring by the pan-European human rights organisation.
It will receive regular visits by PACE rapporteurs and periodic assessments of whether it is honouring its obligations and commitments.
Justice reforms introduced in recent years by Poland’s governing PiS party “in numerous aspects run counter to European norms and standards” and are an attempt to bring the judiciary “under the political control of the executive”, the PACE said in the resolution adopted yesterday.
The assembly expressed regret that Poland had failed to address numerous recommendations on its judicial reforms.
It said Poland should “urgently” separate the posts of prosecutor-general and justice minister, reform the National Council of the Judiciary, whose members are now predominantly elected by politicians rather than judges, and respect a recent Supreme Court ruling that effectively undid some of the PiS-sponsored reforms.
The assembly also rejected the argument, put forward by Polish government officials, that the reforms are based on similar provisions found in other EU states.
Finally, the PACE deplored the “abuse of disciplinary proceedings against judges and prosecutors” and the “increasingly permissive climate for ... hate speech” in the political debate.
The monitoring procedure introduced will last “until the above-mentioned concerns are addressed in a satisfactory manner”, the resolution reads.
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