The European Commission said on Tuesday it has launched the second stage of infringement proceedings against Poland over sweeping changes to ordinary courts, warning that the new rules undermine judicial independence.
In the latest of a series of clashes between Warsaw and Brussels, the EU’s executive announced its move some two weeks after receiving a response from the Polish authorities to its “grave concerns” over alleged breaches of EU law.
Warsaw denies that recent changes to courts hit the independence of judges. Polish President Andrzej Duda signed the changes into law in July, despite protests across the country.
But the European Commission said on Tuesday that the new Polish rules are incompatible with EU law because introducing a different retirement age for female judges (60 years) and male judges (65 years) is gender discrimination.
Fears over independence of courts
The commission also said it was concerned that “the independence of Polish courts will be undermined” by rules giving the justice minister discretionary power to prolong the mandate of judges who have reached retirement age, as well as to dismiss and appoint the heads of courts.
The new rules undermine “the principle of irremovability of judges”, the commission added.
The EU’s executive gave Poland a month to “take the necessary measures”, warning that if Warsaw does not comply, Brussels may decide to refer the case to the Court of Justice of the EU.
Poland’s governing Law and Justice (PiS) party has said sweeping changes are needed to reform an inefficient and sometimes corrupt judicial system tainted by the communist past, accusing judges of being an elite, self-serving clique often out of touch with the problems of ordinary citizens.
But opponents have accused Law and Justice of aiming to stack courts with its own candidates and to dismantle the rule of law.
Poland is already embroiled in a row with the EU over sweeping changes to the country’s Constitutional Tribunal.