June 13, 2018 / 1:41 PM / 3 months ago

Poland has not addressed key concerns over court independence: EU's Timmermans

STRASBOURG (Reuters) - Poland has not addressed the key concerns of the European Commission over the independence of courts, the First Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans said on Wednesday, adding he would travel to Warsaw for talks next week.

European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans attends a debate on the Future of Europe at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, June 13, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Speaking in the European Parliament, Timmermans said amendments introduced by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party to its reforms of the judiciary were not enough and the reforms still posed a risk of undermining the democratic division of powers, a core European value.

“I regret to inform you that overall and in spite of all of these legislative changes, key concerns which the Commission identified in the recent proposal, remain unaddressed,” Timmermans told parliament.

Timmermans said Polish authorities needed to urgently address the risk of irreparable damage to its Supreme Court, in which some 40 percent of judges could be forced into retirement on July 3 under the reform, and be replaced by nominees of a body now also dominated by the ruling PiS.

“The risk of creating irreparable damage fully remains. On July 3, 27 out of 72 Supreme Court judges will face the risk of being forced to retire,” Timmermans said.

“The forced retirement of these Supreme Court judges would constitute an irreversible violation of the rule of law. The Commission is at present examining this issue,” he said.

Many top political figures in Poland, including Nobel Peace Prize winner and former leaders of the Solidarity movement Lech Walesa have appealed to the Commission to ask the European Court of Justice, the EU’s highest court, to issue an injunction against the Supreme Court reform.

“The measure the Polish authorities have continued to implement over the past six months have already created damage and are continuing to do so. After the Constitutional Tribunal, the National Council for the Judiciary it is now the Polish Supreme Court which is now at risk of coming under political control,” Timmermans said.

Reporting By Jan Strupczewski and Robert-Jan Bartunek

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