Polish minister criticises Supreme Court head in row over judiciary

FILE PHOTO: EU and Polish flags flutter in Mazeikiai
·2 min read

By Alan Charlish and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk

WARSAW (Reuters) - A government minister accused the head of Poland's Supreme Court on Friday of bowing to the demands of "colonial" European Union officials in a row over the independence of the judiciary that could see Warsaw face financial penalties.

Poland's justice minister, the architect of the judicial reforms opposed by the EU, also criticised Brussels separately. He said Warsaw should not bow to "blackmail" and that, while he backed EU membership, it should not come "at any cost".

Poland faces an Aug. 16 deadline to disband a disciplinary chamber that the EU's top court says does not guarantee judicial independence and undercuts EU laws. If Poland fails to comply, it could be fined or eventually lose some EU funding.

The ruling coalition, led by the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, is split over whether to resist or compromise to avoid risking financial penalties.

Late on Thursday, Malgorzata Manowska, First President of the Supreme Court, partially froze the disciplinary chamber on a temporary basis.

She said no new cases would go to the chamber until legislative changes are made or the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issues a final verdict on the matter.

A government spokesperson said courts act independently, and declined further comment on Manowska's decision.

Members of United Poland, a right-wing junior coalition partner, took a tough line against Manowska's decision.

"This is the absolute submission of the First President of the Supreme Court to the demands of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and Brussels officials," Michal Wojcik, a cabinet minister and deputy head of United Poland, told Reuters.

"This is the colonial mindset of Brussels officials and the incomprehensible mindset of the CJEU judges," he said. "In my opinion, our position should be completely tough. Enough submission!"

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, the head of United Poland, told Rzeczpospolita daily he opposed "succumbing to the illegal blackmail of the European Union".

"The belief that the EU is a good uncle and gives us money,and that we should accept all its demands at all costs, ispropaganda and false," he said.

Asked whether United Poland would remain in the coalition ifPoland accepted the CJEU ruling, Ziobro said there were "limitsto compromise".

Another junior coalition partner, Accord, said Poland should not put EU funding at risk. Accord spokesperson Magdalena Sroka said she believed Manowska had done the "right thing".

(Reporting by Alan Charlish, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Agnieszka Barteczko, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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