The European Commission announced on July 17 that it would continue with infringement procedures against Poland first initiated in April. This decision was made on the grounds that the Polish government “undermines the judicial independence of Polish judges and does not ensure the necessary guarantees to protect judges from political control, as required by the Court of Justice of the EU.”
It follows Poland’s failure to satisfactorily respond to the commission’s findings that detail the increasing influence the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has over the rule of law.
This included a law that allows judges to be subject to investigations, procedures and sanctions on the basis of the judicial decisions they make as well as the unreasonable time frame in which cases are processed. Furthermore, the commission raised concerns about the government’s failure to guarantee the independence of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, which composes of judges solely appointed by the Polish parliament, the Sejm. The procedure also outlined that rather than enacting disciplinary hearings against judges in an ordered manner, the disciplinary chamber chooses which cases to follow through with “unfettered discretion”.
The commission will now move to the next stage of the infringement procedure. This will give Polish authorities two months to comply with necessary measures to convince the commission that they are fulfilling European rule of law requirements.
If Poland fails to comply, the commission is likely to refer the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union. This deadline will fall just before Ursula von der Leyen’s appointment as president of the commission on November 1. While PiS backed von der Leyen’s appointment, she has reiterated her commitment to upholding the rule of law against the wave of populist illiberalism. On July 17 she reiterated this to the EU commission, saying she would “always be an independent guardian of the treaties. Lady Justice is blind – she will defend the rule of law wherever it is attacked.”
As part of a broader move against attacks on judicial independence, the commission also announced that it would carry out an annual assessment on all the compliance of all EU nations with the rule of law.