Little room for compromise over judiciary amid rule-of-law row

Poland has made concessions and there is little room for further compromise in the ongoing row with Brussels over the rule of law, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz told Polish Radio on Tuesday.

Czaputowicz added that the European Commission’s intervention in Poland’s judiciary had gone too far and that the row over Poland’s justice system “is about how much the European Commission is allowed to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries”.

According to Czaputowicz, amendments to Poland’s Supreme Court law, which restricts new “extraordinary appeals” were among a number of changes aimed at appeasing the European Commission.

Czaputowicz said the amendment aimed to fix “wrongly passed verdicts” but that the European Commission was concerned that it could threaten the stability of Poland’s legal system.

His comments came after European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans on Monday said that the ongoing dispute with Warsaw over court reforms and the rule of law in Poland was not yet resolved.

Timmermans said the changes were not enough to say that there was not a systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland, giving a curt “No” when asked if there was any chance that the European Commission would withdraw the Article 7 procedure against Poland at this stage.

Meanwhile, the Polish president’s chief of staff Krzysztof Szczerski said the European Commission was “zig-zagging”.

“One minute we are told that [the European Commission] is ready to compromise, and a moment later the European Commission says something different,” Szczerski said.

“This has to end. A compromise is ready… Poland has made an effort and now it is up to Brussels’ political will to put an end to this issue,” Szczerski added.

The rule-of-law row

The European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation European Union, in December took the unprecedented step of triggering Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Poland, stepping up pressure on Warsaw over controversial changes to the justice system by the country’s ruling conservatives.

The move meant that the EU’s executive wanted the bloc’s member states to declare that the rule of law in Poland was under threat. That could potentially pave the way for sanctions being imposed on Poland.

But the Polish government has since moved to modify the disputed legal changes.

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz in early May met Timmermans in Brussels to brief him on planned new amendments to disputed laws regulating the work of the country’s court system, according to PAP.

Poland’s lawmakers have since approved adjustments to regulations governing assistant judges and also voted to limit a contested procedure that allows “extraordinary appeals” for reopening closed court cases.

Officials in Warsaw were hoping the modifications would prove enough for the EU executive to stop the Article 7 procedure.

Czaputowicz in late March said that Poland wanted Brussels to withdraw its Article 7 procedure against Warsaw.

Timmermans in early April visited Warsaw to hold talks with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki as well as Czaputowicz and presidential chief of staff Krzysztof Szczerski. He also met the heads of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal and Supreme Court.

Morawiecki and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker talked about the rule of law in Poland during a telephone conversation in late April.

The European Commission on May 2 proposed a new long-term budget for the EU. The plan introduces a mechanism that could financially penalise countries that are judged to have breached EU principles on the rule of law.

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