EU Warns Poland, Demands End to Tightening Govt Control

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Poland's lower house of parliament passed on Thursday (July 20) a contested Supreme Court law which the opposition says would erode the independence of the judiciary and undermine democracy.

The legislation would give the politically appointed justice minister the power to name the chief justices of Poland's common courts.

"Recent measures taken by the Polish authorities on the judicial system greatly amplify the threat to the rule of law in Poland", European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said.

Following a telephone conversation with the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, on Thursday, Tusk issued a public statement calling for an urgent meeting to discuss "the risky consequences for Poland's standing on the world stage".

"They will have to make a choice: are they in the European system or not?" an unnamed senior diplomatic source told The Times.

Most Poles agree that the courts need reform, in fact an opinion poll in May found 63% said so.

The separation of powers between executive and judiciary is a fundamental democratic principle in the European Union, though in many member states the effectiveness of separation can be as much a matter of political culture as of formal structures. These amendments provide that the members of the council are to be elected by a three-fifths parliamentary majority, instead of the ordinary majority suggested by the original bill, making it much harder for Law and Justice representatives to elect their candidates.

Timmermans said that the European Union was closer to triggering Article 7 against Poland because its recent steps toward the judiciary "greatly amplify the threat to the rule of law" and threaten putting the judiciary "under full political control of the government".

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Head of the ruling Law and Justice party Jaroslaw Kaczynski speaks during a press conference, defending his party's proposals for changes in the judiciary system, in Warsaw, Poland, Friday, July 14, 2017.

Protesters outside parliament in Warsaw.

But Duda, in a surprise move on Tuesday, warned he would not approve the supreme court reform unless lawmakers amended the bill on the judiciary council to ensure that the Law and Justice Party would not have complete control over its composition.

Exasperated by how PiS - which has also subdued public media and other courts - is undermining democratic standards in the country of 38 million people, the European Commission vowed to move ahead with an unprecedented Article 7 procedure.

"The proposed bill calls for the immediate dismissal of the current Supreme Court judges, except those chosen by the justice minister", The Associated Press explains.

Timmermans said Brussels would open a fresh legal case next week over the court laws, as well as giving Warsaw more recommendations on how to rein in the changes.

Aides to Duda said the president, who is aligned to the ruling party, had rejected Tusk's offer.

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.