The European Union is entering uncharted waters as it deals with a threat to the judiciary coming from one of its own:
The executive European Commission has triggered a punitive procedure against Poland for weakening the rule of law, the first time it has used the provision. Tuesday’s meeting will see European affairs and foreign ministers from the other 27 EU states quiz their Polish counterpart.
“The Polish government has the right to reform the judiciary as long as this does not go at the expense of the independence of the judiciary,” said the Commission’s deputy head, Frans Timmermans, who is leading the case against Warsaw.
This will not be resolved quickly or quietly.
Romania’s lower house has passed controversial legislation that will overhaul its justice system — legislation that has been widely criticized as threatening judicial independence and facilitating corruption.
From the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project:
The [Romanian] legislation changes the manner in which magistrates are overseen and chief prosecutors are appointed—under the bill, the president has the right to vet prosecutors.
It also changes the source responsible for compensating for judicial errors from state funds to the judge responsible in sentencing. Experts claim this could possibly affect judges’ biases and tendencies in court rulings.
The lower house approved the bill with 179 out of 269 votes.
The European Commission and thousands of magistrates expressed concern over the legislation, saying it would allow political influence within the judicial system. Thousands of Romanians repeatedly protested against the proposed bill for its alleged power to hinder the fight against corruption. Demonstrations on Sunday drew over 10,000 people to take the streets of Bucharest, Cluj and other major cities.
“Justice, not corruption!” protesters chanted, according to ABC News.
The legislation is still pending in the upper house.
This week, the European Commission issued its latest reports on the justice systems of two EU member states, Romania and Bulgaria. Both states have made slow progress in positively reforming their judicial systems, but the Commission concluded that in both states, momentum for reform was lost in 2017.
Both countries have tried to put a positive spin on the report, noting they still have work to do. But they will be under renewed pressure to move closer to the Commission’s anti-corruption and transparency goals, especially in light of the significant threats to judicial independence that emerged in neighboring Poland earlier this year. The Commission’s mandate to monitor reform in both countries expires in 2019.
The full Commission reports can be found here.