Dies ist eine HTML Version eines Anhanges der Informationsfreiheitsanfrage 'Rule of Law Hearing of Poland on 11th December 2018'.


 
  
 
 
 

Council of the 
 
 

 European Union 
   
 
Brussels, 20 December 2018 
(OR. en) 
    15469/18 
 
 
 
 
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JAI 1292 

 
 
FREMP 236 
POLGEN 252 
AG 45 
 
NOTE 
From: 
General Secretariat of the Council 
To: 
Delegations 
Subject: 
Rule of Law in Poland / Article 7(1) TEU Reasoned Proposal  
- Report on the hearing held by the Council on 11 December 2018 
 
 
As a follow-up to 14621/18 (paragraph 15), delegations will find in the annex the formal report on 
the hearing of Poland held on 11 December 2018 in accordance with Article 7(1) TEU. 
 
 
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ANNEX 
On 11 December 2018, Poland was heard by the Council in accordance with Article 7(1) TEU. The 
hearing was conducted during the meeting of the General Affairs Council and took approximately 
two hours. 
At the start of the hearing, the Presidency briefly reminded the participants of how the procedure 
would be conducted (14621/18) and the Commission was then given the floor. The Commission 
stated that the developments since last December show that the major concerns have not been 
resolved, as outlined in the Commission assessment (15197/18). In particular, the law following up 
on the CJEU interim measures has not yet entered in force, as the Polish President has not yet 
signed it.  
The Polish delegation referred to the Polish reply of 21 November 2018 informing the Commission 
about the new law enabling retired judges to return to active duty and revoking the President's 
power to extend the term of Supreme Court judges. The delegation voiced their belief that the 
Polish authorities deserve to receive the Commission's assessment on the Polish draft law within a 
reasonable timeframe. Taking into consideration recent events, the delegation asked the Member 
States how they saw the future developments of the Article 7 procedure, especially as the most 
pressing issue (the early retirement of judges) had been remedied by the Polish government.  
Following this announcement, the Polish representatives gave a PowerPoint presentation, set out in 
Attachment 1. This presentation took approximately 40 minutes. Firstly, it explained that the 
retirement age for current Supreme Court judges had been changed back to 70 years, and the 
discretion  of the President of the Republic (or any other body) to extend a judicial tenure had been 
abolished. This was an attempt to reach a compromise through dialogue. Other amendments 
introduced in 2018 concerned: the levelling of the retirement age for women and men (at 65 years); 
the transfer of the judicial tenure extension from the Minister of Justice to the National Council of 
Judiciary (NCJ); the new arrangement whereby court president dismissals may now be blocked by a 
court college or the NCJ; the introduction of new procedure for appointing trainee judges; the 
narrowing of the criteria for extraordinary appeal; and the publication of Constitutional Tribunal 
judgments as requested by the Commission.  
 
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All the changes that had been implemented in April and May were the result of the fruitful dialogue 
with the Commission. Regarding the retirement age of ordinary court judges, it was further clarified 
that the original retirement age was 65; in the period from 2013 to 2017 it was 67, and it was 
changed back to 65 in August 2017. In 1998, the Constitutional Tribunal determined that the 
retirement age of judges could be lowered even without their consent. The change to the retirement 
age was therefore in compliance with the Polish Constitution. Regarding court presidents, it was 
stated that they have a purely procedural role and go back to being normal judges as soon as their 
term ends. Regarding disciplinary hearings, it was stated that there were no formal hearings. It 
could not be determined whether there have been cases of intimidation. It was underlined that there 
was a requirement that judges can not perform public duties that would undermine their 
independence. The disciplinary officers are all independent judges and prosecutors. The Minister of 
Justice is not involved in disciplinary proceedings. The Minister of Justice only appoints the 
Disciplinary Officer of the Ordinary Courts and two Deputy Disciplinary Officers (for a four-year 
term). The remaining 45 officers are appointed by the General Assemblies of Judges of respective 
District Courts. Regarding extraordinary appeals, it was stated that the social justice criterion was 
defined in the Polish Constitution and was present in Article 3(3) TEU. Ensuring that there are 
adequate possibilities for re-examining the case, including reopening proceedings, was also 
requested by Council of Europe recommendation (2000)2. Only the Ombudsman and the Attorney 
General can lodge such an extraordinary appeal, and it is only used in extraordinary circumstances. 
Concerning the NCJ, it was stated that the model chosen in Poland complied with European 
standards and was similar to existing models in other Member States. The reform had, among other 
things, introduced live broadcasted hearings of candidates for the NCJ and ensured that the selected 
members could not be removed from their position during the course of their four-year term. The 
next part of the presentation concerned the Constitutional Tribunal and focused, among other 
things, on guarantees of its impartiality and the publication of judgments following the Commission 
recommendation. With regard to further steps, it was noted that the Article 7(1) TEU procedure 
needs to remain objective and fact-based and take into account not only the legal text but also its 
practical application. Poland concluded by expressing its openness to a dialogue with the Council, 
the Member States and the Commission. 
 
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The Finnish delegation asked for more clarification on how the infringement procedure relating to 
the new retirement age of judges was being followed up by Poland.  
The Polish delegation replied that the Polish government was required to implement interim 
measures. The CJEU decision required Poland to reinstate the judges and to allow them to work as 
before and to inform the Commission of the measures taken. It was underlined that the new law is 
not just an interim legal solution but would become permanent legislation. The judges affected by 
the retirement age will return to work.  
The Netherlands delegation asked whether it was true that 39 new judges had been appointed to the 
Supreme Court in September and October 2018 despite concerns and the legal procedure pending 
before the CJEU. Regarding the extraordinary appeal procedure, the delegation asked whether the 
criteria for lodging it were not too broad, as per e.g. the Venice Commission's assessment, therefore 
undermining legal stability.  
The Polish delegation replied that the procedure would only be used in extraordinary cases. Since 
its introduction this year, only three cases had been lodged, and there was therefore no reason to 
claim that it could lead to instability. Regarding the appointment of new judges, it was stated that 
this had no bearing on pending procedures, as these judges had been appointed to newly created 
chambers. The overall number of judges in the Supreme Court is now higher. None of the posts that 
had become free because of the change to the retirement age had been filled by new judges.  
The Belgian delegation asked whether the President of the Republic had the competence to appoint 
the President of the Supreme Court. The delegation also asked why the Constitutional Tribunal had 
been requested to verify the compatibility of the Treaty provision on the preliminary question 
mechanism with the Polish Constitution. 
The Polish delegation replied that the new law enabled judges to return to their former positions. 
Their term is considered to be uninterrupted. It is a general competence of the President of the 
Republic to appoint the President of the Supreme Court, and no new competences of the President 
of the Republic had been introduced in this respect. On the second question, the delegation replied 
that this is a question of interpretation of the Treaty and that the Polish courts have been asked 
questions on issues remaining national competence.  
 
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The Luxemburg delegation asked about the potential compensation of loss suffered by early retired 
judges and details of the retirement scheme for judges that decide to not return to work but stay 
retired.  
The Polish delegation replied that the judges would receive full remuneration, as their term will be 
treated as uninterrupted. Since their salary remains unchanged, there is no damage which would 
need to be compensated. 
The Irish delegation asked about steps the Polish government is planning to take to restore faith in 
the impartiality of judges (referring to statements issued by five Polish judges' associations warning 
about the chilling effect of the reform of judiciary on Polish judges).  
The Polish delegation stressed that there were extensive guarantees for all judges and that they 
benefit from wide-ranging independence. The declarations mentioned could not be considered to be 
unbiased since the issuing associations were actively involved in commenting on the reforms. With 
regard to the disciplinary procedures, it was stated that there were always judges involved, which 
guarantees the independence of the decision.  
The French delegation (also speaking on behalf of Germany) asked whether all Constitutional 
Tribunal rulings had now been correctly published in the Journal as verdicts.  
The Polish delegation explained that the rulings had been published as verdicts. However, they all 
included an annotation stating that the procedure had clearly been breached. These annotations, 
however, were purely informative in nature. Subsequent legislative amendments followed and 
regulated the situation described in these verdicts.  
The Swedish delegation referred to a letter signed by several judges of the Constitutional Tribunal 
regarding irregularities in the composition of sitting benches and the abuse of the internal allocation 
rules.  
 
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The Polish delegation replied that cases were allocated alphabetically and only in certain cases 
could the President deviate from this rule. Furthermore, it was stated that it was difficult to 
comment on letters, as they did not necessarily reflect facts but opinions.  
The Danish delegation asked about the prospects of Poland accommodating other Commission 
recommendations, in particular what changes were planned regarding the NCJ.  
The Polish delegation answered that the reform did not change the system or the competences of the 
NCJ. The only thing that had changed was the way judges were elected. More than 50 % of 
members are still judges who have been elected when they were already independent. There is no 
real argument in the Commission recommendation concerning changes to the NCJ. The reform 
follows the recommendations of the Constitutional Tribunal, according to which the situation in 
2013-2015 was in breach of the Polish Constitution. 
The German delegation asked whether there was a time schedule for the implementation of further 
reforms (e.g. concerning 350 ongoing disciplinary proceedings or the situation in the NCJ). It also 
asked how other concerns, e.g. those raised in the Venice Commission reports, would be addressed.  
The Polish delegation replied that it would need more clarification on the facts referred to in the 
German delegation's question, as these did not correspond to the data available to the Polish 
delegation. The Polish delegation called upon other delegations not to refer to figures where the 
source was unknown or unofficial.  
The Spanish delegation made a general comment that CJEU rulings are obligatory for all Member 
States and rule of law standards are to be met in the accession process and as a Member State.   
The Italian delegation asked for further explanation on the election of judges to the Constitutional 
Tribunal in 2015. 
 
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The Polish delegation explained that before the end of its term the previous government had wanted 
to fill five positions, some of which would only become free after the parliamentary elections. The 
election of these candidates had been in breach of the Polish Constitution. 
The Portuguese delegation asked when the new law concerning the Supreme Court judges would be 
signed by the President of the Republic.  
The Polish delegation explained that the President had 21 days to sign it. The law should enter into 
force around 17 December.  
The Commission underlined that with regard to the infringement procedures the Polish government 
was accountable to the CJEU and not to the Commission. For two months the government had 
failed to implement the rulings. With regard to Supreme Court judges, the Commission stated that 
they were currently working without a legal basis and that the situation needs to be clarified. The 
Polish authorities will be required to report to the Commission on how the rulings are being 
implemented. The Commission will continue the dialogue until all the issues at stake have been 
resolved. Regarding disciplinary procedures, the Commission recalled the statement of the five 
major Polish associations of judges reporting that these proceedings had had a chilling effect on 
judges. The Commission concluded that there was scope for continued dialogue until all issues have 
been resolved. 
 
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The Polish delegation said that the current procedure could not be called a dialogue. Many 
Commission recommendations have been followed, e.g. on the levelling of the retirement age for 
men and women and the early retirement of Supreme Court judges. Despite these concessions, the 
Commission had decided not to withdraw the pending infringement procedures against Poland.  
The Polish delegation concluded by asking all parties to reflect on the link between the Article 7 
procedure and the CJEU infringement procedures and thanking them for the debate. 
The Presidency concluded that the General Affairs Council would remain seized on this matter. 
 
 
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