The European Commission gave Warsaw two months to reply to a new set of recommendations.
President Andrzej Duda on Wednesday appointed a candidate backed by Poland’s ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party as the new head of the Constitutional Tribunal, which has been locked in a struggle with the government.
Shortly afterwards, the Commission said it considers the procedure which led to the appointment of judge Julia Przyłębska to the post as “fundamentally flawed as regards the rule of law.”
It added that “the procedure was led by an acting [Tribunal] President whose appointment raises serious concerns as regards the principles of the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary as protected by the Polish constitution.”
After a meeting of EU Commissioners, the deputy president of the EU’s executive arm, Frans Timmermans, said: “We do believe there is a persistent problem with the rule of law” in Poland.
He added: “There is a serious issue with the independence of the highest court of the land.
“That’s why we have engaged in this dialogue with the Polish government, we will continue to pursue that dialogue. But if that dialogue at the end of the day does not lead to results we will have to look into other options.”
In January, the Commission, the EU’s executive arm, announced it was starting a "rule-of-law" probe into whether laws pushed through by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party violate EU standards. PiS has fiercely rejected such accusations.
The probe by the European Commission could in theory lead to Brussels imposing penalties on Warsaw, but any such move would have to be backed unanimously by EU member states. Hungary has said it would not support sanctions.
‘We will not drop this issue’
Timmermans on Wednesday said: “We will not drop this issue, we will use any instrument we have in our toolbox if we deem it necessary.”
Earlier on Wednesday, appointing judge Julia Przyłębska to head the Constitutional Tribunal, President Duda said: “I would like the scandalous disputes both inside and around the Tribunal to end... they have impeded the Tribunal from functioning properly.”
Critics have accused the ruling Law and Justice party of aiming to stack the Constitutional Tribunal with PiS supporters, undermining its ability to challenge new laws.
Law and Justice has argued it is unfair that a constitutional court with a majority of judges appointed under the previous parliament should be able to scupper flagship policies for which PiS secured a mandate in democratic elections last year. (pk)