Brussels hopes to reach compromise over rule of law by June

The European Commission deputy president Frans Timmermans said that he hopes that Poland and EU will settle a dispute over the rule of law soon and mentioned the June 26 meeting of the General Affairs Council as a “make or break” date. “I hope the Polish government will see that it has to take a few more steps for us to be able to declare that the systemic threat to the rule of law is no longer there,” Timmermans said.

He also stressed that “you can’t just talk, you also have to take specific steps.” Timmermans emphasized that although progress has been made on several issues, a number of issues are still unresolved and the results of negotiations with Poland are still possible.

Timmermans said he hoped to be able to announce enough progress then to revoke the unprecedented Article 7 punishment procedure against Poland but can’t do so just yet.

“The main issue remains how much political control can you have to be able to say that the judiciary is independent. We have some concerns there,” he said.

He also added that during the discussion at Monday’s meeting, all EU countries except for Cyprus had some input. All of them underlined the necessity to conduct further dialogue between Poland and the EC.

Brussels expects from Poland to make some amends to last year’s controversial judiciary overhaul. These concessions include not reducing the retirement age for current judges and not interrupt their current terms as well as ensuring that the new system would guarantee the selection of the members of the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), which nominates judges, by the representatives of the judiciary. Another recommendation was to restore the independence and legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal by ensuring that its president and vice-president are elected in accordance with the law and that judgments of the Tribunal are published and fully executed. The EC announced the possibility of withdrawal of art. 7 if the Polish authorities meet its demands.

Under these amendments, Poland’s supreme court would be more limited in its newly acquired ability to effectively overturn past verdicts, and the president, rather than the justice minister, would gain the right to appoint junior judges.

“Poland is aiming for an agreement,” its foreign minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, commented.

“We have to go on talking and explaining to find a legal formula to address these concerns. I understand the European Commission is of the same mind and will continue talks.”

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