- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2020

WARSAW, Poland (AP) - The vice president of the European Commission met Polish parliament and justice officials Tuesday to discuss new legislation that restricts judges amid mounting conflict in Poland as the government takes steps to control the court system.

Vera Jourova, who is in charge of EU values and transparency, said she wanted to directly discuss the issues with Polish officials to “have a better understanding” of the situation and report it to the EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

International bodies including the EU and the U.N., and European law experts have condemned the changes that the governing right-wing Law and Justice party has been making to Poland’s justice and court systems.

In Strasbourg, the Council of Europe debated a report on the condition of Poland’s justice system. It noted the need for improvements in the area and warned against bringing the judiciary “under the control of the executive or legislature, or even worse, under the political control of the ruling majority.”

Jourova said in Warsaw she was in favor of dialogue and finding a joint solution to the situation that she said is negatively affecting Poland’s justice system.



“I would like to do more to protect the judges from the campaign against them,” Jourova said, stressing the atmosphere was bad for judges doing their “demanding job.”

The conflict around Poland’s judiciary intensified last week when lawmakers approved a law allowing politicians to fire judges and the government publicly undermined the authority of the Supreme Court, which has to a large extent preserved its independence.

The restrictive law, called by critics a “muzzle law,” still needs President Andrzej Duda’s signature to take effect.

Jourova met with the author of the changes in the judiciary, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who later told reporters he proposed a change of the current contested system of appointment of judges by a politically-chosen judicial body, to a system involving lawmakers and politicians.

Jourova also met Parliament Speaker Elzbieta Witek, of the ruling party, Senate Speaker Tomasz Grodzki, of the opposition, S upreme Court head Malgorzata Gersdorf and Poland’s top human rights official.

Grodzki called the situation in the judiciary an “impasse.”

He said he is hearing hints that EU funds in the next financial framework will be tied to the level of respect for the rule of law in member nations.

Jourova told Grodzki that a special international body is to make regular checks on members’ adherence to the rule of law principles.

Spokesman for the ruling party Radoslaw Fogiel said he hoped Jourova may show “greater understanding” for the government’s reasoning than her predecessors, who launched EU sanctioning procedures against Poland.

He insisted that the shape of the judiciary is entirely the authority of member nations, not EU bodies.

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