EU’s Rule-of-Law Chief Defends Polish Judges as Spat Deepens

Marek Strzelecki
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EU’s Rule-of-Law Chief Defends Polish Judges as Spat Deepens

(Bloomberg) -- The European Union’s top official for judicial affairs pressed Poland to help find a solution to their clash over the rule of law, which legal experts warn can isolate the ex-communist country from the rest of the bloc.

Visiting a nation whose nationalist government has fueled criticism that it’s trampling democratic checks and balances, European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova met Tuesday with judges, government officials and other stakeholders in Poland.

Four years into a campaign by the ruling Law & Justice party to push through more than a dozen changes to the judicial system, judges are unsure of their ability to make rulings and courts are putting cases on ice. At the same time, the government is pushing for rules to punish jurists critical of its actions and denouncing them as corrupt in state-owned media.

“The door for dialog is open but I’m concerned with the smear campaign against judges,” Jourova told reporters Tuesday after meeting ombudsman Adam Bodnar.

At the heart of the matter is the stability of the EU’s legal system and its internal market -- the world’s largest -- which can’t function without independent courts.

‘EU’s DNA’

The situation in Poland, which mimics Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s efforts to give politicians more control over the judiciary, now threatens to create islands of ambiguity where legal rulings aren’t valid across the bloc.

Poland’s legal system was thrown further into disarray last week, when the Supreme Court, following an order from the EU’s highest court, ruled that hundreds of judges appointed by a government-backed judicial body didn’t have the legitimacy to adjudicate.

The government asked the Constitutional Tribunal -- another judicial panel it has stacked with loyalists to counter the influence of the independent Supreme Court -- to review the ruling. It’s also pushing for legislation to punish any judge critical of the changes in the courts.

“Today, foreign courts now have much more reason to not believe that Polish courts are independent, for example when they consider European arrest warrants issued by Poland,” said Wojciech Sadurski, a law professor at the University of Sydney. “Rule of law is part of the EU’s DNA.”

With no signs that Law & Justice will back down, the EU’s highest court could soon suspend the regime designed to discipline judges and impose fines against Poland, the biggest net recipient of EU funds. In the longer run, the clash may cause the the country of 38 million people to lose out on billions of euros from the bloc’s nextmulti-year budget.

To contact the reporter on this story: Marek Strzelecki in Warsaw at mstrzelecki1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrea Dudik at adudik@bloomberg.net, Michael Winfrey, Andrew Langley

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