Polish leader OKs judiciary law changes deemed insufficient

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish President Andrzej Duda has signed into law regulations replacing the controversial body disciplining judges with a new accountability panel in the hope it will persuade the European Union to release billions of euros in pandemic funds frozen over Poland’s political control of the judiciary.

Duda signed the changes into law late Monday, his office said.

They are largely seen as superficial and continuing political control over judges, which is a major sticking point between Warsaw and Brussels, leading to fines for Poland and the suspension of the coronavirus recovery funds.

The EU’s chief executive, Ursula von der Leyen, has warned that no money will be disbursed if Poland fails to reach the “milestones” in granting judicial independence: abolishing the disciplinary chamber, rewriting its rules and allowing judges sanctioned or suspended by the chamber to have their cases reviewed.

The changes authored by Duda remove the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Chamber, which has been used to sanction outspoken judges. It will be replaced by a new accountability body to be appointed by the president.

Only one of the many judges disciplined for being critical of the government’s actions in the justice sector has been reinstated, but was appointed to a different section of the court and sent on leave.

Von der Leyen has faced criticism last week from centrist lawmakers in the European Parliament after the European Commission, the EU’s executive body. conditionally accepted Poland’s pandemic recovery plan, opening the possibility of disbursement of dedicated funds, totaling about 36 billion euros ($39 billion). The lawmakers argued the decision was premature as Poland has failed to address EU’s conditions.

The Disciplinary Chamber has cost Poland dearly. The European Court of Justice fined Poland a record 1 million euros per day for failing to dismantle it.

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