The European Commission on Monday launched a new infringement procedure against Poland, aimed at “protecting the independence of the Polish Supreme Court” on the eve of the entry into force of a controversial reform of the judiciary.
The Commission underlined the “lack of progress” in its dialogue with Warsaw about with regards to respect for the rule of law, which it sees as being threatened by the the reforms, and consequently decided “to launch the infringement procedure as a matter of urgency,” said Margaritis Schinas, spokesperson for the institution.
“At the same time, the Commission stands ready to continue the dialogue on the rule of law with Poland, which remains the Commission’s preferred way of resolving the systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland,” he added.
The European executive, guarantor of the treaties, has sent a “letter of formal notice”, to which Poland has one month to respond, the first step of a procedure which can go ultimately to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and possible financial sanctions.
On Thursday, the judges of the Polish Supreme Court decided to remain in office, thereby presenting a challenge to the conservative government whose reform is “unconstitutional” in the eyes of judges. The new law provides for the forced retirement of one third of the judges (27 out of 72) of the Court, aged over 65.
The Commission believes that the new legislation “undermines the principle of judicial independence, including the irremovability of judges”, and therefore that Poland does not meet the obligations of the European treaties, it is explained in a statement.
In addition to this new infringement procedure, Poland is subject to the Article 7 procedure on respect for the rule of law, an unprecedented situation in the EU. At the end of December, the European Commission launched the preliminary phase of this procedure, which can theoretically lead to a suspension of the country’s voting rights within the Union. Warsaw is also subject to an infringement procedure for the reform of its ordinary courts, from which it will have to answer to the CJEU.