19:39 GMT06 August 2020
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    European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans piled pressure on Poland Thursday (September 29) over controversial changes to its Constitutional Court, which has put it on a collision course with Brussels over EU values on the rule of law.

    Poland has been at odds with the EU for months, since its Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, who leads the Law and Justice (PiS) party in government, made changes to the country's constitutional court. In December 2015, the Polish Government added five "politically friendly" judges to the country's Constitutional Tribunal, in a move seen by critics as making it easier to push through legislation with less opposition.

    The amendment meant that the tribunal would need a two-thirds majority to take a decision on constitutional matters instead of a simple majority. The minimum number of judges needed to make a decision was also raised from nine to 13, making it more difficult to convene a quorum.

    Chief Justice Andrzej Rzeplinski ruled that many sections of the law passed in December 2015 were "non-compliant with the Polish Constitution."

    "[The law] prevents the honest and proper functioning of the… Constitutional Court, by interfering in its independence and separation from other powers, thus violating the principles of the rule of law."

    Andrzej Rzeplinski, head of Poland's Constitutional Court, attends a session at the Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw, Poland March 8, 2016.
    © REUTERS / Kacper Pempel
    Andrzej Rzeplinski, head of Poland's Constitutional Court, attends a session at the Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw, Poland March 8, 2016.

    However, the government in Warsaw said it would ignore the ruling, refusing to publish it. Under the Polish constitution a ruling does not become final until officially published.

    Sanction Warning

    The European Commission has warned Warsaw that — unless it reverses its decision and implements the Rzeplinski ruling — it will lose its voting rights in the EU — the first time such a sanction has been applied to a member state.

    Thousands of people march in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw to protest against the government's moves that have paralyzed the nation’s highest legislative court, the Constitutional Tribunal on March 12, 2016.
    © AFP 2020 / Janek Skarzynski
    Thousands of people march in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw to protest against the government's moves that have paralyzed the nation’s highest legislative court, the Constitutional Tribunal on March 12, 2016.

    Commission Vice President Timmermans told a breakfast seminar in Warsaw:

    "Defense of the independence of the judicial system is the patriotic duty of every citizen of the European Union and the European Commission will support any such action. That is not meddling in the internal affairs of a country. I hope that Poland will not be turned away from the future and from the European Union."

    ​Meanwhile, Poland is also at odds with Brussels over the controversial plan to relocate refugees from Greece and Italy under a quota system. Poland is supporting both Hungary and Slovakia, who are making a legal challenge against the plan at the European Court of Justice. The standoff is a further example of the growing gulf between Brussels and member states.

    Related:

    EU Standoff With Poland Over Rule of Law Exposes Impotence of Union
    EU Parliament Urges Poland to Solve Constitutional Crisis Before End of October
    EU Pressure on Poland Over Rule of Law Will Boost Popularity of Ruling Party
    Poland Wants to Take Responsibility for EU Future, Show Model for Reforms
    Tags:
    constitutional amendments, EU divisions, rule of law, constitutional reform, Polish Law and Justice Political Party (PiS), European Commission, European Union, Beata Szydlo, Frans Timmermans, Europe, Poland, Brussels
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