EU opens new legal case against Poland for ‘undermining judicial independence’ with Supreme Court overhaul

Poland faces huge daily fines from the European Court of Justice, after Brussels began legal action against Warsaw for changes to the Polish Supreme Court which “undermine the principle of judicial independence”.

The European Commission said on Monday that a new law, due on Wednesday, would force 27 out of 72 Supreme Court judges to retire by lowering the retirement age from 70 to 65, which breaks EU rules stopping the removal of judges and the rule of law.  

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The judges can have their mandate extended on application to the president of Poland, which has raised fears of undue political influence over the court.

“We still hope that the Polish authorities will reconsider bringing it [the law] into force. We hope they will change their minds,” Margaritis Schinas, the commission’s chief spokesman, said in Brussels.

“If not, it is going to be up to the European Court of Justice to give its judgement,” he added.

The EU and Poland are already at loggerheads over the controversial reforms, which critics say a ploy to stuff the court with politically appointed puppets.  

In December, amid fears over the Polish government’s illiberal drift, the commission triggered Article 7, a legal process that could strip Poland of its EU voting rights, for the first time in the bloc’s history. Since then, the commission and Warsaw have been locked in negotiations to find a compromise to avoid that punishment.

Monday’s announcement of the legal action begins a long process that could ultimately see Poland faces fines from the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice but the commission stressed it would prefer the issue to be resolved by the ongoing talks. The fines could take the form of a lump sum or a daily penalty until Poland conforms with EU law.

Poland has a month to respond to the “infringement procedure”, meaning the offending law will already be in place before the deadline expires.

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