Recovery Plan deal must precede judicial changes, says gov't spokesman

Poland is prepared to present a plan to liquidate the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, but only once an agreement has been reached with the European Commission over its post-pandemic National Recovery Plan, the government spokesman has said.

The Court of Justice of the European Union has imposed a fine of EUR 1 million a day on Poland due to its failure to comply with an earlier ruling demanding the suspension of the chamber on the grounds that it lacks independence from the government.

Piotr Mueller told private TV station Polsat News that he hoped German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's words in Warsaw on Sunday, about the need for pragmatic solutions over the rule-of-law dispute between Warsaw and Brussels, would allow the European Commission (EC) to focus on "more important challenges" in the geopolitical sphere than on specific measures in the Polish judicial system and linking budget payments dependent to them.

Poland and the EU have been at loggerheads over judicial reforms enacted by Warsaw, which the EC deems detrimental to the independence of judges. The EC accuses the Polish government of politicising its judicial system, with the Supreme Court's Disciplinary Chamber, set up to vet judges, at the heart of a protracted dispute.

The EC has threatened to hold up payment of EU funds until the dispute is resolved, specifically money from the bloc's Recovery and Resilience Facility. All member states have had to submit a National Recovery Plan (KPO) outlining how the funds will be spent, which has to be accepted by the EC before money is paid out.

Mueller admitted that "a difficult dispute" is ongoing with Brussels over how deeply the EC can interfere in the competences of the member states and the intricacies of their legal systems.

"We have declared that corrections can be made in the area of the (judicial) disciplinary regime within the framework of the foreseen reforms of the judicial system," Mueller said. "But it cannot be that the European Commission waits for those details just so it can say afterwards that it doesn’t like a comma here, and therefore it will prolong the freezing of the National Recovery Plan, because unfortunately so far that's how it looks.

"When we presented concrete steps at the working level at the European Commission, it was expected that that the law (on liquidation of the Disciplinary Chamber - PAP) would first be accepted and later we could talk further," Mueller continued. "Negotiations are not going like that because someone from the Commission will immediately come up with an idea to regulate another area."

Asked what would happen if Poland failed to receive funds from its KPO this year, Mueller said the money would not be forfeited, but would be paid out at a later date.

On the matter of Poland presenting a plan for the liquidation of the Disciplinary Chamber, the government spokesman said: "I think that would be possible only when we reach an agreement at the European Commission level on the content... of the KPO."