Poland changes judiciary law, demands EU release COVID funds

Warsaw hopes the bloc will release pandemic recovery funds, saying it met the European Union’s demands in the rule-of-law dispute.

Poland has replaced a controversial body that disciplined judges with a new accountability panel to resolve a long-running dispute with the European Union over the country’s judicial independence.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s ruling party, said on Tuesday that he hoped the bloc would have a “proper” reaction to the move.

The EU has frozen billions of euros of pandemic funds for Poland over criticism of its rule of law record.

Kaczynski insisted that Poland has met the EU’s demands for changes to the regulations on the judiciary.

“I hope the reaction will be proper and in line with the [EU] treaties,” Kaczynski said, reiterating his long-term view that EU bodies have been violating the bloc’s treaties in their approach to Poland.

President Andrzej Duda signed the changes to the disciplinary regulations into law on Monday evening.

Kaczynski also said the war in Ukraine, Poland’s neighbour, has recently changed the EU’s approach to the government in Warsaw for better and there are some “elements of goodwill” to be seen.

Poland is supporting Ukraine’s struggle against the Russian invasion and has taken in millions of Ukrainian refugees.

Superficial changes

However, the changes signed by Duda are largely seen as superficial and continuing political control over judges, which is a key sticking point between Warsaw and Brussels.

The EU’s chief executive, Ursula von der Leyen, has warned that no money will be disbursed if Poland fails to reach “milestones” in granting judicial independence: abolishing the disciplinary chamber, rewriting its rules and allowing judges sanctioned or suspended by the chamber to have their cases reviewed.

The changes authored by Duda remove the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Chamber, which has been used to sanction outspoken judges. It will be replaced by a new accountability body appointed by the president.

Only one of the many judges disciplined for being critical of the government’s actions has been reinstated, but was appointed to a different section of the court and sent on leave.

Von der Leyen has faced criticism last week from centrist lawmakers in the European Parliament after the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, conditionally accepted Poland’s pandemic recovery plan, opening the possibility of disbursement of funds totaling about 36 billion euros ($38bn).

The lawmakers argued the decision was premature, as Poland has failed to address the EU’s conditions.

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