WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s lower house of parliament on Wednesday gave final approval to a new law on judicial accountability that the government believes will meet European Union expectations and help unfreeze billions of euros in pandemic recovery funds.
Brussels suspended the aid for Poland, saying the government’s policies of exerting control over the judiciary violate democratic principles. The EU has called for essential changes before Poland can be granted access to more than 35 billion euros ($37 billion) of EU grants and loans. Some previous changes proposed by Poland did not go far enough for the EU.
Following months of negotiations, the government proposed more changes that removed the controversial powers of the Supreme Court, as one of the so-called ‘milestones” that Poland has agreed to meet to receive the funds.
The proposal was criticized in Poland, including among judicial circles where some argued that it was inconsistent with the country’s legal system. But the right-wing wing ruling coalition insists it constitutes a compromise that should lead to the releasing of the funds, a process they say will take many months.
Lawmakers at the powerful lower house, or Sejm, voted Wednesday 233-207 for the new law with 12 abstentions, illustrating the deep divisions in a parliament narrowly controlled by the governing Law and Justice party and its junior partners.
The changes still need approval from President Andrzej Duda who said he will closely study them for adherence to Poland’s constitution. Appointing judges is among the president’s powers.
EU Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, reacted on Twitter saying: “I take note of the adoption by the Sejm of the new law on the judiciary. We will now continue to follow the next steps in the legislative process. ”
Government spokesman Piotr Mueller said earlier Wednesday that the new law was a “compromise” offered to Brussels that will “test the true intentions” of the bodies governing the 27-member bloc.
Poland’s government has been arguing that the EU was exceeding its powers in holding up the funds and trying to exert undue pressure.
The new regulations move the divisive disciplinary and immunity procedures regarding judges from the Supreme Court to the main administrative court. They also broaden the possibility for the sides in a court trial of vetting judicial independence and authority.
It remained to be seen whether the EU would indeed find the new law satisfactory.
Other “milestones” that Poland needs to meet before the EU funds can be released, include a bill that should liberalize permissions for installation of wind turbines.
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