Poland’s ruling party will start the fast-track approval of a draft law meant to pre-empt potential punishment from the European Union and complete the most dramatic judicial revamp in the bloc’s former communist east.
Racing against EU efforts to halt the overhaul, the Law & Justice party will begin debate on a bill during a three-day parliamentary session starting to ease the replacement of the Supreme Court’s chief justice and ratchet up pressure on other judges.
While the government says the changes are needed to restore a sense of judicial fairness to ordinary Poles, the EU and pro-democracy watchdogs say the subordination of courts not only breaks the bloc’s rule-of-law standards but may also lead to a spike in corruption.
Stoked by a tide of nationalism that has also buoyed Brexit and support for US President Donald Trump, Law & Justice has repeatedly outmaneuvered the EU over the past two-and-a-half years, making no less than a dozen major changes to its justice system. The latest prepares the ground for a “purge” of Supreme Court judges, according to the tribunal’s president, Malgorzata Gersdorf, and comes weeks before the EU will be able to turn the case over to the bloc’s top court in the hope of winning an injunction.
“This is a race against the clock,” Laurent Pech, a professor of European law at Middlesex University in London, told Bloomberg. “But the odds are against the European Court of Justice being able to step in before the purge of the Supreme Court is more or less completed.”
At stake is more than Poland’s reputation or even the threat of unprecedented political sanctions, with EU nations such as France seeking to curb the bloc’s funding for members that breach democratic values.
Faced with an EU deadline in early August to explain a previous overhaul of the Supreme Court, Poland doubled down by seeking to oust Gersdorf more quickly after she refused to step down before her six-year term ends in 2020. The latest revamp is needed so previous reforms can “start working” and Poles will “finally be able to get justice,” party spokeswoman Beata Mazurek told reporters in Warsaw.
Gersdorf interrupted her vacation and returned to work as ruling party officials threatened she could face disciplinary proceedings for obstruction because they view her as retired. “According to the constitution I remain President of Supreme Court, no statute can change that,” she told reporters. “I’m fighting for the rule of law.”
EU President Donald Tusk, a former prime minister from a party now in opposition, said eroding the autonomy of courts will result in rampant corruption. “Power without any checks or balances ultimately turns into a force that steals and goes unpunished,” he said.