EU “pleased new Polish government determined to restore rule of law”, says visiting commissioner

European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders has expressed satisfaction during a visit to Warsaw that Poland’s new government is seeking to reverse the rule-of-law violations that saw its Law and Justice (PiS) predecessor repeatedly clash with Brussels.

“We see that the new government is fully determined to restore the rule of law in Poland and we are very happy about it,” said Reynders following a meeting with justice minister Adam Bodnar.

“For a number of years, the European Commission has recognised that there is a serious threat of violating the rule of law in Poland,” he added, quoted by broadcaster Polsat. “But I am convinced that Poland can fully restore its position as a state respecting rule-of-law standards.”

Komisarz UE ds. Wymiaru Sprawiedliwości @dreynders: Jestem przekonany, że Polska może w pełni przywrócić swoją pozycję państwa przestrzegającego standardów praworządności.

— Min. Sprawiedliwości (@MS_GOV_PL) January 19, 2024

In a symbolic moment, Bodnar handed Reynders a framed photograph of modern Warsaw. That was a nod to the fact that Zbigniew Ziobro, the justice minister in the PiS government, in 2021 gave Reynders framed pictures of the destruction caused in Warsaw by Germany during the Second World War.

“Commissioner, this is a photograph of Warsaw rebuilt, beautiful and wonderful, thanks, among other things, to EU funds,” said Bodnar.

One of Ziobro’s former deputy ministers, Sebastian Kaleta, however, criticised Bodnar for “disgusting grovelling in front of” the European Commission.

“It’s clear who is who in this relationship,” wrote Kaleta, now an MP in the PiS parliamentary caucus that makes up the main opposition. “Bodnar is offering another tribute to the EU.”

New Polish justice minister @Adbodnar today gave visiting EU commissioner @dreynders a photo of modern Warsaw.

His predecessor in the PiS government, @ZiobroPL, in 2021 gave the same commissioner photos of Warsaw after it had been destroyed by the Germans in WW2

— Daniel Tilles (@danieltilles1) January 19, 2024

During his remarks, Reynders made clear that Poland still has much to do to if it wants to unlock billions of euros in EU funds that were frozen by Brussels due to rule-of-law concerns under the PiS government.

“I hope that we will soon be able to present a positive assessment of the first payment application,” said the commissioner. “I look forward to continuing talks in this context.”

One of the most important tasks, he added, would be to restore the independence of the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), the body responsinble for nominating judges.

The KRS was reformed under PiS to give politicians more control over it, and that has in turn resulted in a number of Polish and European court rulings finding that it is no longer a legitimate body.

Justice minister @Adbodnar says that the US ambassador to Poland „positively assessed the [new government’s] activities aimed at the restoration of the rule of law in Poland” during a meeting between the pair

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 12, 2024

Reynders also made reference to the issue of public media, which has caused controversy in recent weeks. The new government last month quickly moved to remove and replace PiS-appointed managers from state broadcasters without going through the normal process.

It argued that this was necessary to “depoliticise” entitles that had been turned into PiS propaganda mouthpieces. But PiS and many legal experts argued the changes were made unlawfully, and a court ruling last week confirmed that.

“We are monitoring the situation very closely, also in the context of the media,” said Reynders. “We want to see a normal legislative process.”

“I hope that all institutions in Poland will participate in the process of restoring the rule of law and stabilizing the situation – in order to have a truly independent judicial system, pluralism in the media, as well as freedom of expression for journalists,” he added.

The constitutional court has ruled that the measures used by the government last month to replace the management of public media and then put them into liquidation are unconstitutional

The government responded by declaring the court’s ruling to be invalid

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 18, 2024

Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credit: Ministerstwo Sprawiedliwości  (under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 PL)

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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