The European Union welcomes Poland's plan to restore judicial independence

The European Union welcomes Poland's plan to restore judicial independence

The election of pro-European Donald Tusk, former president of the European Council between 2014 and 2019, as Poland's prime minister last year meant a radical change in the course of Polish politics, which was beginning to take shape in facts. Yesterday, Polish Minister of Justice Adam Bodnar presented to the European Affairs Ministers the reform plan through which Warsaw aspires to restore the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in the country and thus put an end to the measures to impose Article 7 sanctions activated six years before Brussels. The reactions of other governments were “positive,” according to Belgian Foreign Minister Hajja Habib. “Preparedness is strength,” he added, criticizing the former Polish Minister of Justice for never setting foot in Brussels.

The so-called nuclear button is a mechanism stipulated in Article 7 of the EU Treaty that allows member states to be punished in the event of a discovery of a “serious and persistent violation” of European values ​​that could ultimately lead to the withdrawal of the right to vote in the Council. The European Commission decided to activate it against Warsaw six years ago, after two years of fruitless dialogue with the government then led by the ultra-conservative Law and Justice Party, due to the authoritarian drift and judicial reforms introduced in the eight countries. Years of his stay in power.

The drift also led Brussels to freeze millions of euros in recovery funds (only an advance payment of 5.1 billion euros out of 60 billion allocated in the recovery plan was released in December). The same applies to Hungary, although this measure was activated by the European Parliament in September 2018. However, at the moment, the measure has only led to discussions without reaching the sanctions stage.

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“Realistic plan”

In the Polish case, the situation could begin to improve very soon. “After six years of discussions on Polish judicial reform, we heard a realistic plan that should restore the independence of the judiciary, which is at stake in Poland,” assessed the Vice-President responsible for Values ​​and Transparency of the Commission, Vera Jourova.

Lahbib stressed, “There is a will to move forward with justice reform and restore the independence of judges. I understand that we are moving towards a procedure in which judges are appointed by their peers and not by political authority.” Elements of the plan also include changes to the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the statute of ordinary courts, and the separation of the functions of the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General.

Although there are no deadlines and it is not clear what stages must be followed to close the Article 7 procedure, the intention of the Belgian EU Presidency – like Poland's – is to close it before the end of its half term at the end of June. Supporters see a “positive dynamic” and a determination on the part of Executive Tusk to reverse this trend, although the European Commission is treating the process with greater caution.

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