BRUSSELS, Belgium — The European Union opened another rule-of-law procedure Monday against Poland over what it sees as flaws in the country’s Supreme Court law, intensifying a standoff that could threaten Poland’s EU voting rights and funding.
The move comes a day before legislation takes effect that will force the early retirement of 27 of 72 justices of the Supreme Court, or more than a third of them.
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The law is the culmination of the ruling populist Law and Justice party’s efforts to put Poland’s entire court system under its control, a plan it began nearly three years ago. Party leaders claim they are reforming an inefficient and corrupt court system in the grip of an unaccountable caste of judges and insist their changes are in line with European standards.
Critics see the law on Poland’s Supreme Court as the most dramatic step in the party’s takeover of the courts, giving the ruling party the power to stack them with loyalists. One of the court’s jobs is to verify election results, and critics say the new law marks a serious reversal for democracy.
In announcing its procedure, the European Commission, which polices EU law, said the measures “undermine the principle of judiciary independence.”
Since “there was no step from the Polish side to reverse them, we made the decision to launch the infringement procedure as a matter of urgency to defend the independence of the Polish judiciary,” EU spokesman Margaritis Schinas said.
Poland now has a month to respond, but if it does not reverse course, a future step would involve the Commission suing Poland at the EU Court of Justice. If Poland were to lose, it could face heavy fines.