WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said Friday he is sending a controversial new law on judicial accountability for constitutional review instead of rejecting it, because it could help unfreeze billions in European Union funds earmarked for Poland.
Brussels has suspended payment of the pandemic recovery funds to Warsaw saying the government’s policies of exerting control over the judiciary, especially through the Supreme Court, violate democratic principles. The EU has called for essential changes before Poland can get access to more than 35 billion euros ($37 billion) of grants and loans. Some previous changes proposed by Poland did not go far enough for the EU.
The current law is intended to amend that, but the EU’s response is still to be heard.
Duda said in a televised address that he understands the urgency of the matter but needs to be sure the new law — approved by parliament on Wednesday, but criticized by the opposition and by some judges — is in line with the constitution before he gives his approval.
“I have always been, and I remain, a supporter of compromise,” Duda said.
“I want the (recovery) funds to be put to use as soon as possible since they are needed for the growth of Poland’s economy,” he said. “This is why I decided not to veto this amended law.”
Duda, who has the authority to appoint judges, has voiced reservations as to the new bill and is referring it to the top Constitutional Court. The court has on many occasions upheld government-proposed legislation, including bills generally seen as controversial.
Following months of negotiations, the government presented changes that removed the controversial powers of the Supreme Court to punish and suspend judges, as one of the so-called ’milestones” that Poland has agreed to meet to receive the recovery funds.
Duda argued that sending the bill to the court will not delay efforts to have EU funds released for Poland, because there are still the other “milestones” to be met. He has appealed to the court to act swiftly.
The bill was criticized in Poland, including among judicial circles where some argued that it was inconsistent with the country’s legal system. But the right-wing governing coalition insists it’s a compromise that should lead to the releasing of the funds, a process they say will take many months.
The new regulations move the divisive disciplinary and immunity procedures regarding judges from the Supreme Court to the main administrative court. They also broaden the possibility for the sides in a court trial to vet judicial independence and authority.
Other “milestones” that Poland needs to meet before the EU funds can be released include a bill that should liberalize permissions for installation of wind turbines.