Duda throws Poland’s EU cash plans into turmoil

Duda throws Poland’s EU cash plans into turmoil
Опубликовано: Sunday, 12 February 2023 06:35

The Polish president kicks a crucial bill aimed at unlocking EU recovery funds to a top court.

Poland’s hopes of getting billions in EU recovery funds were derailed when President Andrzej Duda sent a crucial bill that rolls back judicial reforms to a top court for adjudication.

The bill is a key part of the “milestones” agreed between Warsaw and Brussels, without which the European Commission will not release €36 billion in grants and loans from its pandemic recovery fund — held up over worries that Poland is backsliding on the bloc’s rule-of-law principles.

But Duda on Friday evening said he would not sign the legislation, and instead sent it to the Constitutional Tribunal, a body that decides whether laws agree with the Polish constitution.

In a national address, Duda said he decided to “refer this law to the Constitutional Tribunal under preventive control. That is, the law will not be in effect until the tribunal has ruled on its constitutionality.”

That’s a huge blow to the nationalist government, which is desperate to get the EU cash ahead of a parliamentary election this fall when the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party will try for a third term in office.

Duda is closely allied with PiS, but he’s in his second term as president and can’t run for a third, which gives him more independence from the party. This is one of the first signs of rebellion from Duda, who has usually been fairly quiescent.

Although Duda’s office helped prepare the initial draft of the bill last year, he has been unhappy with its final form, made following consultations between Brussels and Warsaw, as he feels it undermines judges he’s nominated.

“The government has reached a new agreement, and it is good that this has happened, but this agreement raises serious constitutional controversies,” he said.

There was little initial reaction from the government except for a dry comment from spokesperson Piotr Müller, who tweeted, “[W]e will wait for the [tribunal’s] decision.”

The tribunal is widely seen as being under the influence of PiS, with several judges appointed in violation of the constitution — one of the many sources of conflict between the government and the European Commission. Although Duda insisted the tribunal could swiftly issue a verdict, the 16-member court is also in disarray, with several judges in rebellion against its president — which will make any decision difficult.

The Commission is unlikely to decide on releasing any funds until the judicial reform bill is law; Brussels sees it as key in restoring some independence to the Polish judicial system, which has been deeply reformed by PiS since the party came to power in 2015.

The legislation shifts judicial disciplinary matters from the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, seen as being under the government’s influence, to the Supreme Administrative Court, another top court, but one that is viewed as being more independent.

Poland was hit with a record-high daily fine of €1 million starting in October 2021 for not complying with an EU court order to suspend the controversial disciplinary mechanism.

The draft law would also end sanctions against judges who raise questions about the status of fellow judges; many new judges have dubious legal status thanks to the government’s reforms changing how they are appointed.

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