Poland’s parliament decided on Thursday evening to abolish the disciplinary chamber at the Supreme Court. The controversial chamber, which can depose politically unpopular judges and prosecutors, is considered an obstacle to the payment of the Polish share of the European Union’s Corona Aid Fund of around 36 billion euros. Despite Parliament’s decision, it is still unclear whether and when the EU Commission will release the funds.
Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki from the national conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) was already optimistic before the parliamentary decision. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is expected in Warsaw next Thursday to sign an agreement on the so-called milestones, he said. These are the conditions that Warsaw has to meet in order to receive the money from the Corona Recovery Fund.
However, it was emphasized on Friday in EU Commission circles that the payment of the Corona billions is not decisive for the legislation passed in the Sejm, but for the actual implementation of the milestones. In addition to the abolition of the disciplinary chamber, these include the reinstatement of ousted judges and the fundamental commitment that the judiciary is not subject to any political influence.
The law introduced by Polish President Andrzej Duda to abolish the Disciplinary Chamber still has to pass the Senate before it can be passed. However, a possible objection by the Senate would only have a suspensive effect.
The EU Commission has been at loggerheads with the government in Warsaw for years because the PiS has increasingly brought the Polish judiciary under its control since taking power in 2015 – which in turn violates the principles of the separation of powers according to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The dispute escalated in October after the ECJ imposed a daily fine of one million euros on Poland because the government continued to adhere to the disciplinary body. The penalty payments due have now totaled more than 200 million euros.
At the same time, both the EU Commission and the government in Warsaw are trying to settle the dispute, especially since Poland’s contribution within the EU is considered indispensable in view of the war in Ukraine. Poland has taken in around 3.6 million refugees from Ukraine since the start of the Russian war of aggression.
However, critics object that the law passed by the Sejm on Thursday to abolish the disciplinary body is merely cosmetic. According to the law, the Disciplinary Body is to be replaced by a new body at the Supreme Court. A new “Chamber for Professional Responsibility” is planned. It is criticized that the decision on the composition of the body ultimately lies with President Duda.
The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, Michael Roth, told the Tagesspiegel that it was good “that serious attempts are finally being made in Warsaw to allay the EU’s serious concerns about the lack of independence of the Polish judiciary”. However, it is still uncertain whether the Disciplinary Chamber will really be abolished. “Changing the labels would not be enough,” says Roth. The SPD politician recalled that there were a number of other points of criticism from the EU regarding the state of the rule of law in Poland. “Further substantial steps and decisions are still needed here,” he said
The Green MEP Sergey Lagodinsky also expressed the fear that the new planned body at the Supreme Court was merely a misnomer. “Just renaming the chamber doesn’t restore the rule of law,” he told the Tagesspiegel. Lagodinsky also pointed out that the European Court of Justice questioned the appointment of judges in Poland by the National Judicial Council for political interference. “But these judges remain in office, the structure of the council remains unchanged, the council will now be re-elected according to new rules,” said Lagodinsky. “The Commission must not accept that.”