EU, Poland discuss Poland’s divisive judicial reform

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s prime minister met with top European Union officials in Brussels on Thursday as part of efforts to avert potential unprecedented EU sanctions over a reform of Poland’s judiciary.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki handed a document detailing changes in the judiciary to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. The nearly 100-page document outlines the previous situation and says that Poland’s judiciary is now shaped like those in some other EU members, including Spain and France. EU leaders, however, say the reforms infringe on the rule of law.

Following his talks with Juncker and his deputy Frans Timmermans, Morawiecki told a news conference that Poland expects the document to be studied “seriously and thoroughly” by EU leaders and members, because it lays down the reasons why the reform was necessary and made improvements on the previous system.

Morawiecki said he expects more talks on the subject in the near future.

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said that “dialogue continues” and that time previously given Poland to meet the commission’s recommendations is not yet up.

EU leaders argue that the changes introduced by the right-wing government give politicians influence over the judges, violating the fundamental principle of judicial independence and equality. They have triggered for the first time ever a sanctioning procedure, Article 7, which could lead to the stripping of Poland’s voting rights.

The main sticking points are the changes that shorten current terms of judges in top courts and give lawmakers and government members the power to appoint members of the Supreme Court and the National Council of the Judiciary, a body which gives its opinions on the appointment and promotion of judges. Previously, they were appointed by judges.

Amid protests from outnumbered opposition, Poland’s parliament voted on Tuesday to approve 15 new members of the judiciary council, all of them proposed by the ruling party and its ally.

Speaking later at the annual German Marshall Fund Brussels Forum, Morawiecki said he “truly” believes that under the new rules the judicial system “is going to be much better, much more independent” than before.

Morawiecki argued that the Supreme Court still includes about a dozen judges — out of nearly 90 — who were professionally active during the “very dark era” of communist rule.

He said he hopes that “slowly but surely” Poland will succeed in making the European Commission see its point of view.

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