The European Commission has launched legal proceedings against Poland accusing its right-wing government of gender discrimination and undermining the independence of the judiciary. The Commission’s action came in response to the signing into law of a controversial bill introducing different retirement ages for male (65 years) and female (60 years) judges. In a Letter of Formal Notice sent to the Polish government the Commission said that the measure infringed the EU’s gender equality in employment laws. The Commission also raised its concern about the power given to the Minister of Justice to dismiss and appoint Court Presidents, saying it will undermine the independence of the courts.
The move follows weeks of protest against judicial reform bills that critics argue are designed to increase government control over judges. Last week Polish President Andrzej Duda surprised observers by vetoing two other pieces of legislation sent to him by Parliament – one forcing the early retirement of supreme court judges to be replaced by government appointees, and another enabling the government to appoint members to the council that selects judicial candidates.
EU Commission First-Vice President Frans Timmermans sent a letter on Friday to the Polish foreign minister inviting him and the justice minister to Brussels to relaunch discussions about the reform laws. Last week Timmermans said on twitter that the Commission was “very close” to triggering Article 50 against Poland which could result in the loss Warsaw’s voting rights. Relations between Brussels and Poland have been strained since the election of the eurosceptic Law and Justice party in 2015 with observers pointing to signs of a growing authoritarianism in the former eastern bloc country. Warsaw also came in for criticism last year when it passed a law empowering the government to appoint and dismiss senior media figures.
The Polish government now has one month to reply to the Commission’s letter of notice.