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Chronology: Poland clashes with EU over judicial reforms, rule of law

WARSAW (Reuters) - The head of Poland’s Supreme Court defied the government on Wednesday by refusing to retire under new legislation that has been condemned by the European Union as a threat to the rule of law and democratic values.

Opponents of the judicial reform hold Polish and EU flags as they protest outside the Supreme Court building, in Warsaw, Poland July 4, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Slawomir Kaminski via REUTERS

The new law, which requires about a third of all Supreme Court judges to retire on age grounds, is the latest in a flurry of changes in the judiciary implemented by the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) since it swept to power in late 2015.

Here is a timeline of the PiS reforms and the reactions they have drawn from the EU.

October 2015

PiS, a socially conservative, eurosceptic party, wins Poland’s parliamentary election with a big majority.

December 2015

- A legislative amendment comes into force giving the PiS-dominated parliament the right to choose replacements for five constitutional court judges. President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, swears in the judges.

- The head of the court refuses to acknowledge the new appointments saying they are illegal and not allowed to participate in judgments.

- PiS introduces legislation that could allow it to remove the head of the Constitutional Tribunal but the tribunal rejects it as unconstitutional.

- The president signs legislation that forces the head of the Constitutional Court to include the five judges chosen by the PiS-controlled parliament in decision-making.

January 2016

- The European Union launches an unprecedented inquiry under its new Rule of Law Framework into whether Poland’s government has breached the EU’s democratic standards by taking greater control of the judiciary and public media.

March 2016

- The functions of justice minister and prosecutor-general are merged, giving minister Zbigniew Ziobro direct oversight over all prosecutors.

July 2016

- Parliament eases some restrictions on the Constitutional Tribunal in a move the government says addresses concerns that it has undermined the rule of law. The opposition calls the changes insufficient.

December 2016

- The term of Constitutional Tribunal president Andrzej Rzeplinski expires. Duda appoints PiS-nominated judge Julia Przylebska as the new chief.

July 2017

- Duda unexpectedly vetoes legislation overhauling the Supreme Court and the National Council of the Judiciary. He signs legislation giving the justice minister the power to hire and fire the heads of courts of general jurisdiction.

- European Commission launches an infringement procedure against Poland over legislation giving the justice minister more control over judges.

December 2017

- Ex-banker Mateusz Morawiecki is sworn in as new prime minister amid expectations that he will negotiate a compromise deal with Brussels over the judiciary.

- President Duda signs into law an overhaul of the Supreme Court. The EU launches action against Poland under Article 7 of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty on the same day.

March 2018

- Under new rules, the PiS-dominated parliament selects a new National Council of the Judiciary, a body that advises on the nominations of judges, after the mandate of the previous one was terminated early. The previous council was appointed mostly by judges, not by parliament.

July 2018

- The European Commission opens fresh legal case against Poland on Monday over changes to the Supreme Court.

- Under legislation going into effect, about a third of Supreme Court judges are due to retire, unless granted an extension by President Duda, including court president Malgorzata Gersdorf.

Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Gareth Jones