(New: More details)
LUXEMBOURG (dpa-AFX) – The European Commission believes that the recent changes in the Polish judiciary are insufficient to dispel doubts regarding compliance with the standards of the rule of law. Disbursement of the EU’s multi-billion dollar pot to mitigate the economic impact of the corona crisis is therefore likely to be further delayed.
In the proceedings before the European Court of Justice, the Brussels authority explained, according to information from the German Press Agency in Luxembourg, that it considered that the disputed provisions had not been repealed after a preliminary analysis.
In particular, the exclusive competence of the “Extraordinary Audit and Public Affairs Chamber” of the Supreme Court with regard to the independence of judges has not been abolished.
It was also noted that the new act does not immediately reinstate the suspended judges, but only provides for a review procedure. According to the concept of the European Commission, such cases should actually be heard by an independent court within the statutory period.
The analysis of the agency is particularly important as the government in Warsaw recently hoped to gain access to funds of up to EUR 35 billion after the adoption of the new “law on the Supreme Court”.
The European Commission has been blocking the release of funds for months because it sees glaring shortcomings in the Polish judiciary. Recently, however, an agreement was reached with the government in Poland on the terms of disbursement of funds. Warsaw assumed that the new law would meet the requirements.
Poland has already submitted its development plan in May 2021. In order to receive money from the so-called Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), Member States must submit a plan with investment and reform projects that should actually be assessed by the Commission within two months. However, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, called on Poland to reverse key judicial reforms in order to restore the independence of judges.
One of the points of contention was the disciplinary body that could punish and dismiss any judge and prosecutor. Poland said goodbye to it in mid-June. The Supreme Court Chamber, introduced in 2018, was the heart of the reform of the national-conservative judiciary of the PiS government. In July last year, the European Court of Justice ruled that Poland was in breach of European law. As Warsaw refused to execute the then ruling of the ECJ against the Disciplinary Chamber, the Court eventually imposed a daily fine of one million euros. Also on Tuesday, the oral proceedings before the ECJ concerned, inter alia, disciplinary chamber.
The Disciplinary Chamber is now being replaced by a new “Chamber of Professional Responsibility”. The judges who hitherto performed functions in the Disciplinary Chamber will be transferred to other positions in the Supreme Court or may retire. From among all judges of the Supreme Court, with the exception of the presidents of the chambers of the Supreme Court, 33 persons will be selected at random, and the President will select 11 judges for the new “Chamber of Professional Responsibility” for a five-year period.
The agreement on Poland’s development plan, reached in early June, stipulates that Poland will receive money only if it meets various intermediate goals. “The milestones have to be met first, and then the money will be paid out,” said von der Leyen. In addition to abolishing the Disciplinary Chamber, the Polish Crown Recovery Plan stipulates that judges can no longer be punished if they ask the European Court of Justice for an interpretation of EU law. In addition, judges who are already affected by decisions of the Disciplinary Chamber must be able to have these decisions reviewed by an independent court. / Wim / aha / DP / zb