BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Polish reforms of its judiciary pose a systemic threat to the rule of law in the country and Warsaw must change tack, the deputy head of the European Commission said on Monday.
Poland has been locked in a deepening dispute with the European Union’s executive over democratic standards since the nationalist-minded, eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party won power in late 2015.
Many other EU member states, the Polish opposition and human rights groups have also sharply criticized the PiS government, but Warsaw says its overhaul of the judiciary is in line with European standards.
“I have to say very clearly to you today, the Commission is of the opinion that these laws do create a threat to the rule of law, a systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland,” Frans Timmermans told the European Parliament.
The Commission says the new laws undermine the independence of the judiciary by giving the justice minister - a politician of the ruling party - the right to sack and appoint senior judges.
Brussels also says the PiS government violated Poland’s constitution in its reform of the Constitutional Tribunal, a court which decides whether new laws approved by the PiS parliamentary majority are in line with the constitution.
The PiS government accuses Timmermans, who has led a legal case against it for more than a year, of waging a vendetta against Poland, but the commissioner said his views were shared by a range of international bodies including the European organization of judges and the U.N. Rapporteur on the judiciary.
“Surely, surely the Polish government cannot just simply ignore all of that and pretend as if there’s only one guy in the Commission that has a problem and there is not an issue at all apart from that,” said Timmermans, who is Dutch.
“Surely the Polish government knows by now there are many concerns in many member states about this...,” he said.
Timmermans urged the Polish government to heed the warnings.
“You have so much room for maneuver with the political mandate you got from your voters without having to go after the rule of law. There’s no need to do that. Please refrain from doing that,” Timmermans said.
He also said EU member states were too closely linked together for violation of the rule of law in one of them not to affect others.
“If we do not maintain the rule of law in Europe, then we will take leave of the most fundamental values of a European cooperation. And this will not just affect the member state Poland. It will affect all of us,” he said.
Reporting By Jan Strupczewski and Lily Cusack; Editing by Gareth Jones