President of European Commission: Brussels 'Will Not Allow' Poland to Put Bloc's Values 'at Risk'

© AFP 2022 / WOJTEK RADWANSKI People attend the anti-government demonstration in front of government building in Warsaw, on January 23, 2016. Thousands of people took to the streets in more than 30 cities across Poland on Saturday to "defend freedom" and protest against the conservative government
People attend the anti-government demonstration in front of government building in Warsaw, on January 23, 2016. Thousands of people took to the streets in more than 30 cities across Poland on Saturday to defend freedom and protest against the conservative government - Sputnik International, 1920, 19.10.2021
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The European Union has been at odds with Poland over Warsaw's decision to introduce changes in the country's judicial system that gave the government more powers over the courts. The bloc deems the move undemocratic, while the governing party Law and Justice says the change was necessary because it reformed the inefficient system.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said Brussels "will not allow" Poland to put EU values "at risk". Addressing lawmakers in Strasbourg, Mrs Leyen said that a recent ruling by Poland's Constitutional Court poses a threat to the bloc's fundamental principles. "The rule of law is the glue that binds our union together", she said.
Mrs Leyen's statement comes a day after Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki sent a letter to EU leaders in which he tried to win their support for Poland's ongoing standoff with Brussels. The prime minister said Warsaw has been acting in the interests of all EU member states.

"We ought to be anxious about the gradual transformation of the Union into an entity that would cease to be an alliance of free, equal, and sovereign states, and instead become a single, centrally managed organism, run by institutions deprived of democratic control by the citizens of European countries", Morawiecki wrote, adding that Warsaw will not give in to "any blackmail".

Judicial Reform and Recent Constitutional Court Ruling

The ongoing row between Brussels and Warsaw started after the latter decided to reform its judicial system. The ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) said the changes were necessary as the old system suffered from corruption and a communist-era mentality. Among the key changes are:
lowering the retirement age for judges, but at the same time allowing the president to grant a five-year exemption to whomever he or she deems worthy. This change forced around 80 top judges in Poland to retire earlier than planned;
introduction of disciplinary measures for judges, with authorities allowing judges to be sanctioned and investigated for their rulings. The disciplinary procedures were to be carried out by judges appointed via parliament;
allowing parliament to select judges for the National Council of the Judiciary, an organisation responsible for appointing judges. Previously, individuals serving in the National Council of the Judiciary were appointed by fellow judges;
The European Union has harshly criticised the reforms, saying it violates the bloc's democratic standards as it undermines courts' independence and opens them to political interference.
The judicial reform has also prompted criticism inside the country, with opponents holding mass anti-government protests.
The standoff reached a boiling point at the beginning of this month when Poland's Constitutional Court ruled that key articles of European Union treaties are incompatible with the country's laws and thus Polish laws have primacy over EU legislation.
The ruling caused a strong rebuke from EU leaders, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen vowing to use all powers against Poland. Germany, the EU's economic powerhouse, said it has given its "full support" for the Commission to take potential action against Warsaw.
It is not clear how Brussels will respond to the ruling, but reports say that it can withhold economic aid worth billions of euros, allocated to help EU member states recover from the financial crisis wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.
The row between Poland and Brussels also sparked concerns that Warsaw may follow in the footsteps of the United Kingdom and withdraw from the EU. France said "Polexit" is now a "de-facto risk". Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has categorically dismissed such a scenario, calling the reports "fake news" and "lies".
However, opposition parties in Poland argue that the anti-EU rhetoric used by the PM's allies – deputy leader of PiS Ryszard Terlecki and MP Marek Suski – is a sign that Polexit is possible. Mr Terlecki said Warsaw "will have to search for drastic solutions" if the ongoing row with the EU worsens, while Mr Suski said Britain showed that "the dictatorship of the Brussels bureaucracy" can be defeated by leaving the bloc.
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