Polish lawmakers approve judicial reform that could unlock EU funds

Polish lawmakers approve judicial reform that could unlock EU funds

  • Billions of euros in COVID funds at stake
  • Junior governing party votes against
  • Bill still needs Senate, presidential approval

WARSAW, Jan 13 (Reuters) – Polish lawmakers on Friday adopted a judicial reform that could unblock billions of euros in European Union funds withheld in an row between Warsaw and Brussels over the rule of law in Poland.

Splits in the ruling camp and the president’s misgivings, however, could yet hamper the reform’s progress.

The bill was adopted in the lower house of parliament thanks to votes from a majority of lawmakers from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party while most of the opposition abstained.

“For the PiS government, the financial security of Poles and the security of Poland’s borders are the most important things. And anything that strengthens this security is good,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on Facebook after the vote.

“Therefore, we must end this unnecessary legal dispute in the West as soon as possible in order to focus on the military threat in the East,” he said, referring to the war in neighbouring Ukraine.

Supporters of the bill say that Poland’s financial security hinges on gaining access to 35.4 billion euros ($38 billion) in COVID-19 recovery funds.

Junior government coalition partner United Poland voted against the bill because it views it as undermining Polish sovereignty.

“The (recovery fund) is in its essence a very expensive loan for which we will have to pay. Poles should also know that succumbing to blackmail always ends badly,” Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, head of United Poland, wrote on Twitter.

Despite the split in the government over the bill, the governing coalition remains intact, Morawiecki and Ziobro said.

Under the bill, the Supreme Administrative Court would deal with disciplinary cases instead of a contested chamber of the Supreme Court. Judges would also not face disciplinary action for questioning the independence of colleagues appointed by organs that critics say are politicised.

The bill will now go to the Senate, where the opposition holds a slight majority. It has declared the Senate would adopt amendments to the bill which were rejected in the lower house, but those can then be rejected again by PiS.

To become law, the bill would also need to be signed by President Andrzej Duda who had said he would not accept any regulation that would allow the legitimacy of judges to be called into question.

The president may sign the bill, veto it or refer it to the Constitutional Tribunal for review.

Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Pawel Florkiewicz, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, David Goodman and Conor Humphries

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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