Poland's lower house of parliament passes contested supreme court bill
Poland's lower house of parliament passes contested supreme court bill
EC 'Very Close' to Triggering Article 7 on Poland
21 July, 2017, 00:50
The lower house of parliament, which is controlled by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party in power, voted 235 to 192 - with 23 abstentions - in favour of the law giving the justice minister power to select candidates for the court.
European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans has warned that his body was very close to initiating the process to activate Article 7 of the EU Treaty, which could lead to the suspension of Warsaw's voting Decisions. A set of legislative changes, introduced last week and voted to a parliamentary committee on July 18, provides for an on-the-spot purge of the entire cadre of Poland's highest appellate panel, which consists of 83 top judges.
The EU warned Poland's right-wing government on Wednesday to suspend controversial court reforms or risk unprecedented sanctions, sharply escalating a standoff with Warsaw.
"These laws considerably increase the systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland".
Krzysztof Szczerski, President Andrzej Duda's chief of staff, said he was "surprised" by EU's threats since the reforms are "being done in accordance with the law", Radio Poland reports.
"They will have to make a choice: are they in the European system or not?" an unnamed senior diplomatic source told The Times.
"We watch with regret that reforming efforts which are so much looked for by the society are used by the opposition for political infighting", the ministry said in a statement.
On July 12, the Polish parliament adopted two bills which opposition said would politicize the judiciary and further subordinate it to the executive - namely to justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro.
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Mr. Timmermans said Mr. Kaczynski's plans would "put the judiciary under full political control of the government".
In response, the residents of Warsaw and other major Polish cities took to the streets urging the president to veto the bill entirely.
Certainly many Poles feel the reforms give Law and Justice the tools to destroy judicial independence and appoint judges sympathetic to the party. Poland's president, upon the request of the justice minister, gets to decide which judges may remain on the court.
A heated discussion in the Parliament lasted nearly until midnight, with the opposing minority trying to stop the Supreme Court bill from being passed.
Aides to Duda said the president, who is aligned to the ruling party, had rejected Tusk's offer.
The Law and Justice party controls the Parliament and the presidency, and weakening the Constitutional Court removed a major obstacle to absolute power. The head of the court, Malgorzata Gersdorf, said in parliament that Law and Justice has chose to "destroy the Supreme Court".
Duda, a lawyer-turned-politician who is closely allied with the PiS, on Thursday let it be known that he had refused a meeting with European Council president Donald Tusk, who had expressed concern over the situation.
After a tense debate in parliament, lawmakers on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to send the draft bill on the Supreme Court for more work by a special parliamentary commission.
De Villiers, who has been in the position since 2014, added that he could no longer perform the functions of the job. Balkans war veteran General Francois Lecointre has been nominated as Gen de Villiers' successor.
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