Poland Says EU on ‘Road to Nowhere’ Trying to Stop Court Changes

  • Cabinet secretary says bloc lacks authority to stop laws
  • EU says mandatory retirement age for judges is discriminatory

Poland rejected the European Union’s move on Saturday for a possible lawsuit to halt the just-passed overhaul of the country’s lower courts, saying the bloc lacked such authority and would ultimately have to turn back.

The escalation in an almost two-year row over court independence and the government’s respect for the rule of law opens the way for the commission to file suit. The country’s judicial overhauls triggered more than a week of nationwide protests, warnings from the EU about unprecedented sanctions on a member state and helped weaken the zloty currency.

Andrzej Duda

Photographer: Janek Skarzynski/AFP via Getty Images

Polish President Andrzej Duda signed into law this week changes in the common courts, which the commission says violates EU rules. While implementing this measure, Duda vetoed two bills that would give politicians more say over the Supreme Court and a powerful judiciary council. He’s due to propose new draft overhauls for both within months.

“The European Commission has embarked on a road to nowhere and every step it takes down this path increases the cost of its return,” Krzysztof Szczerski, head of Duda’s cabinet, said in a statement on Saturday. The commission “clearly doesn’t have the authority” to interfere in the organization of justice systems of member states, he said.

The Polish law on common courts violates EU non-discrimination rules by setting a retirement age of 60 for female judges and 65 for male judges, according to the commission. The body also expressed concerns about “discretionary” power given to the justice minister to extend the terms of judges who reach retirement age and dismiss and appoint court presidents.

The commission, the 28-nation EU’s regulatory arm, sent a “letter of formal notice” Saturday, giving the government in Warsaw one month to reply. The next step in the infringement process would involve a final warning by the commission to the Polish government in the form of a “reasoned opinion,” after which a lawsuit could be filed.

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