Poland lobbies EU leaders on investigation into court reforms

New PM Mateusz Morawiecki draws parallels with post-Vichy France and post-Franco Spain

French president Emmanuel Macron and Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki ahead of a bilateral meeting at the European Union leaders summit in Brussels on Friday. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters

French president Emmanuel Macron and Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki ahead of a bilateral meeting at the European Union leaders summit in Brussels on Friday. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters

 

Poland’s emotional battle over its courts has entered a new round after its prime minister drew parallels between his government’s judicial reforms and the situation in post-Vichy France and post-Franco Spain.

Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, appointed last week, has inherited a long-running European Commission investigation into the rule of law in Poland, and concerns of excessive political interference in the judicial system.

Warsaw rejects the EU’s investigation as an illegal Brussels interference in its sovereign rights. It says its reforms – such as replacing judges and changing appointment procedures – are necessary to clear out a judiciary it sees as ineffective and riddled with communist-era cronies.

The commission disagrees and next Wednesday, after a lengthy investigation, it is expected to launch a procedure named after article 7 of the European treaty, obliging all member states to respect common EU values including the rule of law.

Ahead of that decision, an EU first, Mr Morawiecki used his first European Council meeting to lobby EU leaders who will eventually decide on whether to act against Poland, potentially blocking funding or voting rights.

Ahead of a meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron, Mr Morawiecki appeared to signal he would raise the incomplete purge of Vichy officials who collaborated with the Nazi regime.

Solidarity link

“Maybe he’ll understand why I don’t really like it that judges who were active during [Polish] martial law are still supreme court judges today,” said the 49-year-old prime minister, whose father was involved in a radical wing of the Solidarity movement that ended Poland’s communist rule.

Earlier this year, Polish president Andrzej Duda said just two of 80 active supreme court justices were part of the communist regime during its 1980s martial law crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

After coming to power two years ago, Poland’s national conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government embarked on a campaign against the judiciary, attacking justices as corrupt, inefficient and part of a flawed and incomplete transition to democracy.

On Friday, the Polish prime minister drew a second historical comparison, between Poland’s current battle and the post-Franco era in Spain. “I think such analogies matter and thanks to them our partners will be able to understand our situation,” said Mr Morawiecki, a former banker.

Human rights fears

Polish human rights experts, its ombudsman and legal analysts fear the reforms are about filling courts with PiS appointees to streamline its authoritarian takeover of Poland.

That fear is shared by the Council of Europe, the continent’s human rights body. It argues the reforms will subordinate further the judiciary to the executive and the legislature, and erode further the separation of powers and the rule of law.

On Friday, the Polish parliament was expected to finalise its supreme court reforms, forcing more than a third of justices to retire unless they are allowed stay on by the justice minister.

On Thursday evening, protests took place across Poland, with candle-carrying protesters singing their disapproval in Warsaw as they marched from the presidential palace to parliament.