Poland bows to EU pressure on controversial judicial reforms

The Polish government appears to have bowed to EU pressure over its controversial changes to the country’s supreme court that have raised fears over the independence of the judiciary.

On Wednesday the government submitted a draft amendment to parliament on the original court legislation that returns the retirement age to 70 from 65, and reinstates judges who had been forced to retire under the previous provisions.

The law, which came into force earlier this year and led to about a third of the court’s judges losing their jobs, caused a significant rift between Poland’s conservative government and the EU, amid claims Warsaw was conducting a political purge.

The European Commission referred Poland to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on the grounds that it was incompatible with EU law, and last month the court issued a temporary ruling, calling for the judges to be reinstated.

The Polish government has argued the law was necessary in order to root out Communist-era judges, and that the attacks against it from Brussels had more to do with politics than legality. But speaking in parliament on Wednesday, Zibgiew Ziobro, the Polish justice minister, said the government “respected the rules and principles of the European Union”.

The amendment does appear to address key points in the law that triggered the ire of the European Commission, but it remains unclear as to whether it will be sufficient to make the ECJ drop the case.

It might also induce a period of calm in the Polish government’s turbulent, and at times bitter, relationship with Brussels. But the country is still the subject to Article 7 proceedings, which could result in it losing its voting rights, over a broader overhaul of the legal system the government has been carrying out over the past three years.

Referring to the amendment, Małgorzata Gersdorf, the court’s president, who has been involved in a running battle with the Polish government over the law, said she would wait to see what the final outcome was, warning that “everything could be reversed”.

But Leszek Mazur, chairman of the National Judiciary Council, the body charged with safeguarding the independence of Poland’s courts, said it could be “assessed positively”.

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