Poland prepares changes to judicial law to unblock EU funds

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s government has submitted a proposed law to parliament that would reverse some key judicial system regulations that caused the European Union to block the distribution of pandemic recovery funds to the nation.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who is trying to get more than 35 billion euros ($37 billion) of EU funds unfrozen, said Wednesday that the proposed amendments were “good for Poland.” He urged lawmakers across the political spectrum to swiftly approve the law that was submitted late on Tuesday.

The amendments resulted from intensive negotiations Poland’s new minister for EU affairs, Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek, recently had in Brussels. The EU maintains that Poland’s right-wing government has violated the rule of law and democratic principles by weakening judicial independence. Brussels has frozen recovery funds for Poland and has pressed Warsaw to amend the situation.

A draft published on the parliament website shows the proposed new law would remove the authority to discipline judges from the Supreme Court, effectively voiding the power of a professional responsibility chamber there that is a main sticking point for Brussels.

The Justice Ministry had used the court’s professional responsibility body to suspend and discredit judges critical of the government’s attempts to exert inordinate control over Poland’s judiciary.

Amid the rule of law dispute with Brussels, changes have been made to that body, but they were mainly cosmetic.

The withheld EU funds and how far Poland should go to secure them — while facing a widening budget deficit and high inflation — have become a source of increasing tension within the ruling coalition, and especially between Morawiecki and Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, the author of the controversial policies on the judiciary.

Despite the rift, Morawiecki and the ruling coalition voted late Tuesday against an opposition motion to oust Ziobro. The coalition decided instead to amend Ziobro’s policies.

A parliament vote on the amendments is expected next week. It would also require approval from the upper chamber, the Senate, and from President Andrzej Duda.

It is not yet clear if the amended regulations will meet the main milestones set by Brussels, which deemed some previous adjustments made by Warsaw as insufficient.

Political commentators in Poland said Wednesday that the government was taking a major step back from policies it had pursued since the ruling coalition led by the Law and Justice party came to power in 2015.

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