Kaczynski finds EU threats ‘amusing’ as Poland given 3 months to undo changes to top court

© Kacper Pempel
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland's ruling conservative PiS party, has laughed off threats from the EU to impose sanctions on the nation, saying "it amuses me." The bloc has given Poland three months to reverse changes made to its constitutional court.

Kaczynski, who is the head of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), comprehensively rejected claims by the EU that Warsaw is eroding the independence of its judiciary, telling German tabloid Bild that “this process is completely out of the jurisdiction of the EU treaties.” 

When asked if he would take the threat of sanctions seriously, Kaczynski merely replied, “it amuses me, as this criticism has nothing to do with the current state of our country.” He added that the threat was only made in order to “provide amusement to the European Commission and its officials.” 

“Even the legal advisors of the European Council think this proceeding goes beyond its treaties,” Kaczynski said. “But we still remain in dialogue with the Commission. By the way, our dialogue partner is EU Commissioner Timmermans from the Netherlands – a country that does not even have a constitutional court! It’s absurd.”

Timmermans has been less than impressed with Poland’s infringement of its top judicial court, and says Warsaw must begin to make changes. 

“We now invite the Polish authorities to take action to solve these concerns and inform the Commission of the steps taken within three months,” Timmermans, who serves as the European Commission's deputy president, told the media. 

Non-compliance with EU demands could see Poland lose its voting rights within the bloc. 

One of the European Union's demands includes Poland publishing and executing all constitutional court rulings. Warsaw has failed to make all such rulings public. 

PiS, which came into office in the fall of 2015, has been taking steps to overhaul the constitutional court. 

At the end of 2015, Polish President Andrzej Duda signed into law a controversial amendment to the legislation of the court. 

Issued in December, the legislation modified the way cases are heard in the constitutional court. The new law also increased the number of judges required to make constitutional tribunal decisions. 

Previously, a simple majority of the country’s 15-judge top court was needed to validate a ruling. Now, a two-thirds majority is required. 

The constitutional court ruled the law illegal on March 9. In response, the government rejected the ruling and refused to officially publish it. 

Back in April, the European parliament condemned Warsaw’s actions against the top court, saying they paralyzed the judicial process and were a menace to democratic order. 

In January, the European Commission began a preliminary procedure designed to determine whether any breaches on democracy had taken place. 

It issued a formal warning to Poland on June 1, asking it to reverse the changes to the country’s top court and thus remove a “systemic threat” to the rule of law.

The EU added that attempts made by Warsaw last week to introduce amendments to the changes did not go far enough. 

“This new law does not address the threats to the rule of law in Poland,” said Timmermans. “The fundamental concerns are still unresolved,” he added.

Timmermans also pointed out that it was very worrisome that Polish President Duda has refused to swear in three judges elected legally by the previous government.

Poland’s chief justice, Andrzej Rzeplinski, described many sections of the law as “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,” Rzeplinski said. 

Since taking power, the PiS government has not only taken more direct control of Poland’s supreme judiciary body, but has also brought state-owned media under government control and increased police surveillance powers. 

Critics have staged a number of protests against the government. One of the biggest demonstrations took place on March 13, with over 50,000 people rallying near the constitutional court building in the Polish capital.

Another 10,000 took to the streets at the beginning of June, demanding that PiS respect EU standards of governance. 

Washington has also voiced concern, with US President Barack Obama discussing the topic with his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, during a July visit to Warsaw. 

Meanwhile, Poland’s government has refused to acknowledge the problem, claiming the EU is acting prematurely. 

“The steps taken by the European Commission before the new law on the Constitutional Court enters into force are clearly premature,” the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement. 

“They expose the European Commission to a loss of prestige needed for carrying out the duties described in the treaties,” it said.