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Polish lawmakers approved a law that partially alters a controversial system for disciplining judges, a move observers described as an attempt by Poland to gain access to billions of euros from the European Union’s pandemic recovery fund, Politico reported.
The lower house of parliament voted in favor of a proposal by President Andrzej Duda, who proposed the changes to the system ahead of a planned June 2 visit to Warsaw by EU chief President Ursula von der Leyen.
The issue is related to the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, a body that critics say is aimed at penalizing judges who defy the government. The EU had criticized the chamber’s establishment, saying it violates the bloc’s laws and thwarts the independence of the courts.
Last year, the EU’s top court ruled against Poland, ordering the government to suspend the chamber and hitting it with a daily fine of more than $1 million.
Meanwhile, the EU has threatened to block nearly $39 billion in grants and loans under the bloc’s Recovery and Resilience Facility unless Poland reverses changes it made to the court system that Brussels says breach EU democratic norms.
Poland has ignored the order and has yet to pay the fines. But amid rising inflation and the war in Ukraine, President Duda proposed changes to the chamber in an effort to secure the funds.
His proposal aims to meet three Commission criteria, including dismantling the chamber and reinstating judges dismissed as a result of disciplinary proceedings.
Despite passing in the lower house, the bill still needs approval from the opposition-controlled upper house. The opposition has criticized the proposal for being too watered down. Meanwhile, Euroskeptic members of Poland’s ruling coalition also condemned the bill for kowtowing to the EU’s demands.
The recovery funds became a recurring issue for the Polish government, which was hoping for an investment boost following the coronavirus pandemic to increase its prospects of reelection in 2023.