Poland's lower house of parliament passes EU-required court reform

Piotr Nowak/PAP

The Sejm, lower house of the Polish parliament, on Friday successfully passed a Supreme Court reform that was needed to unlock billions of euros in the EU's post-pandemic recovery funds for Poland.

Brussels has locked Poland out of funding owing to its apparent failure to overhaul or reverse changes to the Polish judicial system it considers a threat to the rule of law. Recent talks between the Polish government and the European Commission indicated that the Supreme Court law could be crucial for the release of the funds.

In the 460-member lower house, 203 MPs supported the bill and 52 were against (including 22 MPs from the ruling caucus), while 189 abstained (opposition parties).

The government itself was split over the reform as Solidary Poland, a small eurosceptic ally in the United Right coalition led by the conservative party Law and Justice (PiS), has strongly opposed any concessions towards Brussels and refused to back the prime minister's plan to fast-track the changes in order to gain a quick access to the much-needed funding.

According to the new legislation, all disciplinary issues concerning judges should be settled by the top administrative court instead of the Supreme Court's Chamber of Professional Responsibility, a body created to replace a disciplinary chamber considered by the EC to be politicised.

The legislation will now go the opposition-dominated Senate, which may introduce additional amendments to the bill and create more problems for the ruling party.

The Polish president, Andrzej Duda, in December last year objected to any changes to the Supreme Court law that "would undermine judicial nominations and allow for the verification of appointments made by the Polish president."

Poland is due to receive EUR 23.9 billion in grants and EUR 11.5 billion in cheap loans from the EU's post-pandemic Recovery and Resilience Facility.