The European Union has launched legal proceedings aimed at protecting Poland's judges from political control, a statement from the European Commission revealed Wednesday, saying the Polish government's moves are creating "a chilling effect."
In a Letter of Formal Notice, the EU accused the government of undermining “the judicial independence of Polish judges by not offering necessary guarantees to protect them from political control.”
The letter marks the start of infringement proceedings by the European Commission, launched when a member state is deemed to have breached community law. Poland now has two months to respond to the letter.
Since coming to power in 2015, Poland’s ruling right-wing Law and Justice party, known as PiS, has implemented a series of changes expanding its power over the country’s judiciary.
The ongoing disagreement with the EU led to the bloc’s highest court ruling in December that Poland must “immediately” suspend a law that forced Supreme Court judges over the age of 65 to retire.
The move pushed 27 of the 72 judges off the bench, with government critics calling it an attempt to take greater control of the judiciary.
The law’s introduction was met by protests across the country and further escalated tensions between the EU and the Polish government.
Wednesday’s statement said EU member states like Poland – which joined the bloc in 2004 – are subject to the rule of law, which is “essential for the functioning of the EU as a whole.”
“The European Commission, together with other institutions and the Member States, is responsible under the Treaties for guaranteeing the rule of law as a fundamental value of our Union and making sure that EU law, values and principles are respected,” it said.