Dies ist eine HTML Version eines Anhanges der Informationsfreiheitsanfrage 'Hearings of Poland held on 18 September and 11 December 2018 in accordance with Article 7(1) TEU'.


 
 
 
 
 

Council of the 
 
 

 European Union 
   
 
Brussels, 5 November 2018 
(OR. en) 
    12970/18 
 
 
 
 
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FREMP 167 
POLGEN 173 
 
AG 27 
NOTE 
From: 
General Secretariat of the Council 
To: 
Delegations 
Subject: 
Rule of Law in Poland / Article 7(1) TEU Reasoned Proposal  
- Report of the hearing held by the Council on 18 September 2018 
 
 
As a follow-up to 12060/18 (paragraph 15), delegations will find in the annex the formal report of 
the hearing of Poland held on 18 September 2018 in accordance with Article 7(1) TEU. 
 
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ANNEX 
On 18 September 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 and a half hours. 
At the start, the Presidency briefly reminded the participants of how the procedure would be 
conducted (12060/18) and then the Commission was given the floor. It stated that since the last 
hearing on 26 June 2018, the rule of law situation in Poland had been deteriorating as outlined in 
the Commission assessment (12034/18). 
The Polish delegation expressed gratitude for the first hearing on 26 June 2018, and stressed that it 
had been a very good opportunity to exchange views and hold a fact-based, substantial and fair 
debate. It stated that the Council was a place for a neutral, fact-based debate about reform of the 
justice system in a Member State and that the hearing should be limited to facts, giving the 
opportunity to present any missing aspects of the analysis of the situation in Poland. Poland was 
aware of the concerns raised by the EU institutions, some Member States and other international 
bodies. However, it was necessary to underline that, according to Article 67 TFEU, regulation of 
the judicial system was a competence of the individual Member State, and the EU respected the 
different legal systems and constitutional traditions of the Member States. That did not exclude a 
debate such as this on whether the implementation of such regulation was in accordance with the 
rule of law. Recent reforms of the judiciary, and in particular of the law on the Supreme Court (SC) 
and the National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ), had only been implemented in the last few months 
and more time and experience were needed to assess their performance. Article 7(1) TEU gave the 
Council the power to decide by a vote or by consensus whether there was a clear risk of a serious 
breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2 TEU or to issue recommendations. 
 
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The dialogue between Poland and the Commission had led to significant amendments to the Polish 
legal system. Poland had equalised the retirement age for men and women as per the Commission 
recommendations and the arguments in the Commission complaint to the CJEU. Competence to 
appoint trainee judges had been transferred from the Minister for Justice to the President of the 
Republic, who had competence for the appointment of all other judges. All judgments of the 
Constitutional Tribunal had been published as judgments. Therefore, Poland believed that the 
Article 7 process needed to be concluded in a way that was acceptable to all, and encouraged all 
Member States to facilitate an acceptable resolution through an open-minded approach.  
Following this announcement, the Polish representatives gave a PowerPoint presentation, set out in 
Attachment 1. This presentation took approximately 45 minutes. First, it explained the SC reforms, 
in particular the lowering of the retirement age. This was followed by an explanation of the role and 
election of the NCJ. The subsequent part of the presentation concerned the extraordinary appeal and 
in particular the criteria for lodging one. 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. Finally, the delegation 
explained that the retirement age provisions that had been introduced were binding on ordinary 
court judges. At the end of the presentation, the delegation summarised additional improvements 
introduced by the reform of the judiciary, such as the random allocation of cases, a strict limitation 
on transferring judges without their consent, and the stipulation that no changes may be made to 
adjudicating panels during trial. The Polish delegation also explained the role of court presidents 
and gave an assurance that the reforms concerning them would have no impact on judicial tenure. 
The information provided on the disciplinary procedure included an explanation that disciplinary 
judgments remained in the hands of the judiciary and the Minister for Justice could not influence 
them. At the end, the presentation gave a summary of the amendments introduced in 2018 as a 
consequence of the dialogue with the Commission and cases filed with the CJEU by the 
Commission. With regard to further steps, it was noted that the Article 7(1) TEU procedure in the 
Council needs to remain objective and fact-based and take into account not only the legal text but 
also its practical application. Poland concluded by stating its openness to a dialogue with the 
Council, the Member States and the Commission. 
 
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The Luxembourg delegation asked about the guarantees protecting judges from political pressure 
and about follow-up to the possible CJEU judgment concerning the retirement of SC judges.  
The Polish delegation replied that any risk of interference had been eradicated with the adoption of 
last month's amendments, according to which the Minister of Justice would not make decisions on 
extending the term of judges who had reached retirement age. On CJEU judgments, it was stressed 
that the level of transposition of EU law in Poland was currently one of the highest in the country's 
history. There were no Polish cases among infringement cases concerning follow-up by a Member 
State to a judgement of the CJEU.  
The Luxembourg delegation asked for clarification about follow-up in the specific case of the 
reform of the judiciary in Poland once there had been a CJEU judgment. 
The Polish delegation stressed that this possible judgment would be of systemic importance for all 
Member States, creating an unknown situation for the EU and Member States in terms of the 
organisation of the judicial system. Therefore, all Member States should give this case their closest 
attention. 
The German delegation, also speaking on behalf of France, asked why new SC judges were 
currently being recruited while there were pending infringement proceedings lodged by the 
Commission concerning the retirement of SC judges. It asked whether Poland would comply with 
the ruling once it had been made. 
The Polish delegation referred to its presentation (see Attachment 1), explaining that according to 
the Polish constitution an ordinary statute could define the retirement age for judges. In addition, 
new judges were not selected to the vacancies left by retiring judges but only to newly created 
posts. Therefore, there was no link with the pending preliminary question nor with Commission 
infringement proceedings.  
The Swedish delegation asked about the role of the NCJ as a safeguard of impartiality and the 
compliance of its composition with standards of independence.  
 
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The Polish delegation replied that of the NCJ's 25 members, 17 remained judges. NCJs in the 
different Member States had different models and compositions and the Commission had not 
criticised cases which were similar to the current one in Poland. Moreover, a transparent and open 
parliamentary selection process, as it was now, was better than the former practice of co-opting 
behind closed doors. It was also recalled that the retirement age was to be defined by a statute in 
accordance with the Polish constitution. It was stressed that the independence of judges was not at 
risk because of the NCJ reform or the new regulation of the retirement age. 
The Danish delegation asked whether the ongoing urgent appointment procedure at the SC did not 
create irreversible facts on the ground, especially given that the CJEU had been seised of this issue. 
The Polish delegation referred to the information provided on NCJ equivalents in other Member 
States, making clear that some degree of interference between powers exists in almost every 
Member State. The situation in Poland, where parliament could elect judges, was therefore not an 
isolated case, and the proportion of judges among members was still high. The retirement of SC 
judges was not forced, but a result of implementing law passed in accordance with the constitution, 
which obliged the parliament to define the retirement age. There was no urgency in filling the 
vacancies created with the last reform. The new vacancies did not constitute irrevocable change; 
they were new posts, which did not relate in any way to the vacant posts created by retiring judges. 
This part of the reform, which was intended to increase the number of SC judges, had never been 
contested. There was a readiness to amend, which had already been demonstrated by the adoption 
of two packages of amendments. Poland had the right to reform its judiciary. 
The Danish delegation asked how Poland would respond to the possible CJEU judgment on SC 
judges. Would the newly appointed judges need to be dismissed and the old ones reinstated? It also 
asked why judge-members of the NCJ needed to be appointed by parliament, since there were 
already members of the NCJ who were members of parliament. 
 
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The Polish delegation replied that none of the issues currently before the CJEU referred to the 
newly created posts: 44 vacant posts were new, and uncontested, and there was no link with the 
CJEU. With regard to the NCJ, there was a perception that there had been an imbalance of powers 
before the reforms. The practice of the judiciary electing its members had been criticised by judges, 
too: in 2014 most of the Assembly of Representatives of Judges had criticised the procedure as 
undemocratic. 
The Dutch delegation asked if any disciplinary investigations had been opened against ordinary 
judges who had referred questions to the CJEU. It wondered whether the criteria for the 
extraordinary appeal were too broad and whether the possible use of this appeal would be difficult 
to reconcile with the supremacy of EU law over national law. 
The Polish delegation replied that the most recent amendment had introduced limitations on the 
extraordinary appeal, narrowing its scope. It was intended to protect Poland's international 
obligations, making it impossible to repeal a judgment affecting an international obligation. 
Extraordinary appeals existed in almost every Member State. They were a necessary safeguard of 
balance in the justice system in extraordinary situations. There were no disciplinary proceedings 
against judges who had initiated a request to the CJEU. 
The Dutch delegation asked about other criticisms of the extraordinary appeal formulated by the 
Commission. 
The Polish delegation replied that institutions of extraordinary appeal existed in many Member 
States and that there was no intention to make improper use of it or to undermine legal stability. 
Poland had wanted to find a way to respond to extraordinary situations and had tried to make things 
more predictable, and it remained to be seen how it would work in practice. Merely triggering the 
extraordinary appeal did not necessarily lead to a judgment. There were currently two inheritance 
law cases in the preliminary stage. 
 
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The French delegation reiterated the question asked by the German and Danish delegations on 
Poland's follow-up to the possible CJEU judgment concerning the retirement of judges. Following 
the Dutch question, Poland was asked how the disciplinary proceedings might affect the 
independence of judges, in particular in the light of the CJEU ruling of 25 July stating that 
disciplinary proceedings had to guarantee that no political control would be imposed on judicial 
decisions.    
The Polish delegation repeated that there were no disciplinary procedures against any of the judges 
who had filed prejudicial questions. The CJEU judgment of 25 July was a careful judgment, 
confirming that general doubts about a justice system did not justify non-implementation of 
European Arrest Warrants (EAWs). Otherwise, it might put an end to the EAW since a lack of 
proper protection in the Member State's judicial system concerned at least 30 other cases too. 
The Portuguese delegation asked how a new appointment would be accepted in view of internal and 
external controversies surrounding the replacement of the first SC president, and whether it would 
weaken the future Presidency of the SC's credibility. 
The Polish delegation made a distinction between the early retired judges and the new posts created 
for the Disciplinary Chamber and the Extraordinary Appeal Chamber. Regarding the first issue, the 
Polish delegation replied that the constitution was clear on how to define retirement age. The 
solution chosen was fully in line with the constitution. The appointment of the judges last August 
was to fill the new posts created and allow the new Chamber to start working.  
The Irish delegation referred to the July CJEU ruling on the EAW, in which it was stressed that the 
independence of national courts required judges to be able to exercise their functions autonomously 
without constraints, and asked how Poland was going to ensure that placing the disciplinary 
chamber in the SC above other chambers would not create hierarchical structures in the SC. Had 
Poland considered the introduction of any further measures to be assured of legal certainty? 
 
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The Polish delegation replied that the balance of powers was an important issue in every Member 
State. The safeguard in the case of the disciplinary chamber was that the procedure was under the 
full control of high-ranking judges. It was the standard where disciplinary cases depended on 
impartial and transparent judicial control. But the independence of judges did not mean a lack of 
responsibility or impunity. 
The Irish delegation asked what steps Poland is taking to alleviate the sense of uncertainty among 
Member States concerning the recent reforms.  
The Polish delegation replied that it had proven that it was being attentive to the concerns of all 
parties, and was open to discussion and understanding. That did not mean, however, that Poland 
would accept any conclusion made at executive or political level. The EU's values were common 
but their implementation was in the hands of the Member States. There was no clash of values here, 
but a fundamental problem with their practical implementation. The current procedure was 
fundamental for the future of the EU and could create systemic changes for it. 
The Spanish delegation asked about the distribution of competences between the NCJ, the President 
of Poland and the Minister for Justice as regards nominating judges, ending their mandates and the 
disciplinary regime. Who took the final decision in those cases? What were the objective criteria on 
the basis of which the President of Poland decided to extend judges' terms? Was it possible for 
judges to seek judicial review? 
The Polish delegation replied that the Polish and Spanish NCJs are not so different from each other 
(e.g. in both cases parliaments decide on the NCJ members). When Poland had been an accession 
country the Polish Minister for Justice had been entitled to select presidents of the courts. During 
the accession process there had been positive feedback from the Commission on this. It was 
difficult to understand why this assessment had changed now. According to the Polish constitution, 
the Polish president was the only entity entitled to nominate judges, and now also to extend their 
terms of office. There was no ordinary judicial control; however, the extraordinary control measure 
might be possible. The Polish president could initiate the disciplinary procedure, taking into account 
the public interest as regards the judiciary and based on clear criteria. 
 
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The Belgian delegation asked why it had been impossible to organise a transition for the existing 
judges before applying the new provision on the retirement age. Why had Poland applied these rules 
immediately? Why had the designation of the new SC president been accelerated? Would it not 
have been better to wait and organise a transition for judges affected by the reform? 
The Polish delegation replied that there had been a transitional period in the SC in the form of an 
extension mechanism. Many judges had decided to use it and five had already been granted an 
extension. The SC president had to be elected; there had been no acceleration of anything. 
Regarding the nomination of judges: in the process of filling vacancies, candidates were first 
assessed by the college of the court, then the assembly of the court, then the designated judge 
(rapporteur) checking 50 random rulings issued by the candidate. Three judges' opinions had to be 
submitted of the candidate wishing to apply. Then there was a transparent hearing in the NCJ,  
broadcast on the internet and based on specific criteria describing what should be assessed. None of 
these bodies had discretionary power, therefore there is no risk of abuse. 
The Finish delegation asked why the new law on the NCJ removed the suspensive effect of appeals 
by judges applying for vacancies at the SC. 
The Polish delegation replied that under the previous system, when there had been suspensive 
effect, some proceedings had taken two years for a single vacancy. Now there was a possibility to 
appeal to the court but it did not block a positive opinion on the candidate. As a result, such a 
person was entitled to apply for vacant positions at the same level in the court and recruitment 
would not be blocked, e.g. currently there were 44 judges applying, 40 had received positive 
opinions, four posts were still free, and candidates with pending appeals could run for those 
positions. 
The Cypriot delegation asked about the role of the Polish president in the appointment procedures 
and the possible risk of political control over the behaviour of judges.  
 
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The Polish delegation replied that such a risk did not exist since one could not know who would be 
elected as the next president. Moreover, the president's prerogatives – including the nomination of 
judges and extension of their terms – were based on the opinion of the NCJ. 
The Commission underlined that the Commission and the Council had a collective responsibility to 
look into the situation in Poland. The Commission never wanted to be prescriptive as to how a 
Member State reformed its justice system. But Member States had clear obligations under the 
Treaties and the Commission was the guardian of those Treaties. The Commission was worried 
about the question the Minister for Justice had asked the Constitutional Court regarding the question 
the SC had asked the CJEU. Direct access to the CJEU was a cornerstone of the EU's legal order 
and a national judge was a European judge when ruling on national law based on EU law. The 
Commission should therefore use all instruments now to ensure that Poland stayed within its 
obligations under the Treaties, including infringement procedures.  
The Polish delegation replied that the Minister for Justice had queried the Constitutional Court but 
not about the SC's right to refer questions to the CJEU, just about the right to suspend national 
legislation by the decision of a judge, without making a specific link to the case in question. Poland, 
like every government, had the right to implement necessary reforms supported by the vast majority 
of society and to defend the sovereign rights of parliament. It preferred to find a smooth and 
conciliatory solution. It counted on the Council to be of great help on this, or there would be no 
solution to this fundamental controversy. It thanked participants for the debate. 
The Presidency concluded that it would come back to the issue as part of preparations for the next 
meeting of the General Affairs Council. 
 
 
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33 
ATTACHMENT 
JAI.A 
LIMITE 
EN 
 


 
 
 
12970/18 
 
PN/hm 
34 
ATTACHMENT 
JAI.A 
LIMITE 
EN 
 


 
 
 
12970/18 
 
PN/hm 
35 
ATTACHMENT 
JAI.A 
LIMITE 
EN 
 


 
 
 
 
12970/18 
 
PN/hm 
36 
ATTACHMENT 
JAI.A 
LIMITE 
EN 
 

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