Poland might have to leave EU, Supreme Court says

Poland may have to leave the European Union over its judicial reform proposals, the country’s Supreme Court has said.

The proposals would allow judges to be removed if they questioned the government’s judicial reforms.

Judges could also be punished for engaging in “activities of a political nature” under the new proposals, put forward by the socially conservative Law and Justice party government.

The ruling party insists the reforms are necessary to make the court system more efficient, but the EU has accused the party of politicising the judiciary for their own gain.

The government-controlled National Judicial Council (NCJ) was meant to safeguard the judiciary’s independence, but in 2018 the ruling party enacted laws that allowed them to appoint majority of the judges.

The country’s Supreme Court said: “Contradictions between Polish law and EU law… will in all likelihood lead to an intervention by the EU institutions regarding an infringement of the EU treaties, and in the longer perspective [will lead to] the need to leave the European Union.”

The Supreme Court also said the proposed reform was “evidently” crafted to allow the country’s president, Andrzej Duda, to choose a new head of court prior to the presidential election in May 2020.

In a statement, the court’s chief justice Professor Malgorzata Gersdorf said: “I would therefore ask that the hatred of judges and courts stops being used as a weapon in the struggle for power, especially since repression, as in 1981, would be a sad expression of powerlessness rather than a manifestation of strength.”

Gersdorf is due to stand down in April, having been appointed before the ruling party came into power in 2015. She has been a vocal critic of the party’s reforms.

European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand told Reuters: “The Commission has a clear position on protecting the judiciary from political interference.

“The Commission continues to follow the situation closely. We remain ready and available to discuss with the Polish authorities ways forward to resolving the issues at hand.”

In June, the EU ruled a Polish law that forced Supreme Court judges into early retirement was unlawful and breached judicial independence.

The European Network of Councils for the Judiciary stripped the NCJ of its voting rights within the organisation, over concerns it was no longer independent of the government.

Poland joined the EU in 2004, and is a major beneficiary of EU funds for agriculture and infrastructure projects.

Public support for remaining in the EU is strong, but rising tensions between the country’s ruling party and Brussels have intensified over judiciary matters.

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