EU hopes to find lasting solution to judiciary dispute with Poland. Commissioner Jourova visits Warsaw

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The door to a dialogue between Poland and the European Union on judicial reform is open and the EU hopes to find a long-term solution to tensions between Warsaw and Brussels, EU Values and Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourova said on Tuesday.

Since coming to power in 2015, Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party introduced a series of judicial reforms which critics and EU officials say may breach the rule of law.

Last week, Poland's top court said rulings made by judges appointed under new government rules could be challenged, resulting in a number of cases being postponed. On the same day, parliament passed a law that critics say aims to muzzle judges.

The European Commission said last week it was "very concerned" about the situation - a message it has repeated since the law was proposed late last year.

"(I want) to have a message back for (European Commission President) Ursula von der Leyen that the door for the dialogue with Poland is open," Jourova told journalists.

Jourova visitied Warsaw to meet officials, including Poland's Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro and Chief Justice Małgorzata Gersdorf to discuss reforms to the judicial system, including a new law that critics say would muzzle judges.

EU Values and Transparency Commissioner Vera JourovaEU2016 NL/Wikimedia CC BY 2.0

EU funds at risk

The threat for Poland is that Brussels may limit funding for countries that infringe the rule of law, said Polish Senate speaker and opposition politician Tomasz Grodzki, who was one of the first officials to meet Jourova on Tuesday.

"We met today in order to avoid the danger of freezing funds for Poland," Grodzki told reporters after the meeting. He added that the EU could set up a body that will establish whether EU countries infringe the rule of law.

"This body will have to produce a document that will be the starting point for further budget decisions," Grodzki said.

"Equal rules to all EU states"

In a statement published at the Sejm website, the lower house speaker thanked the EU Commissioner for attending Monday's commemorations in Auschwitz-Birkenau. "She also expressed gratitude for safeguarding historical truth in the European Parliament," reads the statement.

The Sejm Speaker Elżbieta Witek reassured that Polish reforms did not violate the EU law and were in line with the constitution. "We're a modern democracy with traditions dating centuries back. The current government has won the elections, which were held in accordance with international standards. One of the fundamental promises (to voters) was a reform of justice system" - stressed Witek quoted in the statement. "It's a serious commitment to voters" - she added.

EU Commission vice chief stressed the executive was working on a methodology to analysing condition of the rule of law in member-states. "Referring to this subject, the Sejm Marshal stressed that a systemic assessment of the actual situation should always come first before any EU action against member-states" - reads the statement.

"For the Poles, EU membership is very important and we care for common future and development of the Union. However, Poland hopes for partner relations and applying equal rules to all EU member-states" - lower house speaker Witek underscored.

Still a way out

Before noon on Tuesday, the Commissioner for Human Rights Adam Bodnar met with Vera Jourova.

He said after the meeting that, apart from the so-called muzzle law, the EU Commissioner mentioned Poland's pending cases before the Court of Justice of the EU.

Asked if he saw a chance to find a way out of the conflict over the judiciary, Bodnar replied that "such chance still exists". "One of the elements of the said chance was the resolution passed the Supreme Court, in my view, wisely connected the judicial independence and that of individual judges with such issues like preventing the spreading chaos in the justice system" - he said.

He added there was a chance to end the feud over the justice system also through talks on judicial independence. "However, such talks won't make sense unless the president vetoes the bill on court reforms. If the president signs this bill, it might render all concerns futile and the problem with judicial independence would only expand" - Bodnar underscored.

At the Supreme Court

Around noon on Tuesday, EU Commissioner Jourova visited the Supreme Court, where she met with Chief Justice Małgorzata Gersdorf, chiefs of Civil, Criminal and Labour chambers of that court, its spokesman, as well as representatives of judges' associations.

The top court's spokesman judge Michał Laskowski informed after the meeting that the talks were devoted to the rule of law problems in Poland, last Thursday's resolution adopted by the Supreme Court (rendering as unlawful judges recommended by the new judiciary council and then appointed by the president) and reactions to it, as well as current affairs of last months. "We've answered the questions asked by our guests, which proved they are well-oriented in Polish affairs" - he added.

"No conclusions or comments were made. This was more of a working meeting regarding concrete issues, as well as foreseeable actions by the Court of Justice of the EU. These were typical legal talks" - judge Laskowski explained.

He added that the Commissioner spoke about the "planned rule of law check procedure in all EU member-states", however - as Laskowski said, it was not the main topic of discussion.

Muzzle law

The PiS government has asked the Constitutional Tribunal to investigate whether the Supreme Court had the right to rule on the legitimacy of judges appointed under the new proposals.

The European Commission said last week that the independence and legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal has been seriously undermined and it is no longer able to provide effective constitutional review.

The Commission also asked the EU's highest court to freeze the new law passed by parliament on Thursday that allows for disciplining judges who are critical of government changes to the judiciary.

Źródło: TVN24 News in English, PAP. Reuters

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