The European Union on Tuesday stepped up its legal threats to Poland over its controversial Supreme Court reforms, giving Warsaw one month to comply or risk being hauled before the bloc’s top court.
The move raises the stakes in a bitter, long-running confrontation between the European Commission and Poland’s right-wing government over the rule of law in the former communist state.
Brussels launched so-called infringement proceedings against Warsaw on July 2 over the changes introduced by the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), which critics say put the judicial system under government control and are a threat to Polish democracy.
The European Commission said that after carrying out a "thorough analysis" of Warsaw’s response, it had now decided to begin the second step of legal action against Poland.
"The response of the Polish authorities does not alleviate the Commission’s legal concerns," it said in a statement.
"The Polish authorities now have one month to take the necessary measures to comply with this Reasoned Opinion. If the Polish authorities do not take appropriate measures, the Commission may decide to refer the case to the Court of Justice of the EU."
Poland could face huge fines if the EU’s top court rules against it.
The controversial retirement law came into effect last month and lowers the pension age of judges from 70 to 65.
It affects 27 of the Supreme Court’s sitting 73 judges including chief justice Malgorzata Gersdorf, who has refused to step down, slamming the measure as a "purge" that breaches her constitutionally guaranteed six-year term ending in 2020.
In December Brussels triggered unprecedented Article 7 proceedings against Poland over "systemic threats" to the rule of law, which could eventually see Warsaw’s EU voting rights suspended.
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The Polish government accused the EU of acting "politically" and vowed to fight any court case.
"We expected that our arguments would not convince the Commission – not because they are weak but because the Commission is acting in a political way and not as an institution charged with protecting respect for European law and treaties," deputy justice minister Lukasz Piebiak was quoted as saying by the PAP news agency.
"I believe we will defend our position until the end. If this case is taken before the European Court of Justice we will fight it with our arguments," Mr Piebiak added.
"We certainly don’t see any reason to abandon court reforms that are under way, and we are convinced that they will continue to be put into effect, because that is what the Polish people want."
Earlier this month Poland’s Supreme Court said it was suspending the forced early retirement of judges over the age of 65, adding that it had asked the European Court of Justice to weigh in on the matter.