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Top EU court wants reinstatement of Polish judges

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The EU's top court said that contested reforms to Poland’s Supreme Court should be suspended amid a legal row between Warsaw and Brussels, according to reports, reported Radio Poland.

Poland's PAP news agency reported that the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that Polish Supreme Court judges sent off into retirement should be reinstated in their posts.

The EU Court of Justice ordered that a reform of the Polish Supreme Court be suspended until a fuller ruling is made on a complaint submitted by the European Commission against Poland.

Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki, whose governing conservatives introduced sweeping legal reforms contested by Brussels, responded to Friday's ruling by saying: “After analysing this, we will address this."

The Polish government has previously insisted it has the right to carry out reforms needed in the country.

Changes to retirement age
Earlier this year, a new law regulating Poland’s Supreme Court came into effect, setting a retirement age of 65 for judges.

In July, the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm launched a procedure against Warsaw over the reform, saying that it undermined “the principle of judicial independence, including the irremovability of judges.”

The move followed the European Commission last December taking the unprecedented step of triggering Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Poland, stepping up pressure on Warsaw over judicial reforms and possibly paving the way for sanctions being imposed on Poland.

But Poland's governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, which came to power in late 2015, has said that sweeping changes were needed to reform an inefficient and sometimes corrupt judicial system tainted by the communist past, accusing judges of being an elite, self-serving clique often out of touch with the problems of ordinary citizens.

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The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has demanded that the Polish government halt an initiative forcing dozens of Poland's Supreme Court judges into early retirement, reported Deutsche Welle (Germany).

"Poland must immediately suspend the application of the provisions of national legislation relating to the lowering of the retirement age for Supreme Court judges," the EU's top court said on Friday.

The Luxembourg-based court also ordered the suspension be applied with "retroactive effect" to Supreme Court judges already in retirement.

The EU's executive body, the European Commission, took Poland to court in September over the judicial reform, which changed the retirement age of judges from 70 to 65. The age cap violated the rule of law, the commission said.

The overhaul would force 27 out of 72 Supreme Court members to retire, including its chief, Malgorzata Gersdorf. The Polish president would be able to grant a five-year term extension to a judge upon the judge's request.

Warsaw vows response
The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party says the changes are necessary to a justice system they say is controlled by an untouchable "caste" of judges steeped in communist-era mentality.

Goverment critics, however, see the reform as a further attempt by the right-wing party to tighten its grip on power. The move prompted rallies across the country in July. Judge Gersdorf has called the move a "purge" and refused to step down.

On Friday, Gersdorf said she was "pleased" by the news from Luxembourg.

"Personally, I am pleased that we have been heard, but I am not pleased about the fact that my country's government didn't do this sooner, and that we had to take them to an European court," she said.

PiS heading to a vote
In December 2017, the European Parliament triggered the so-called Article 7 procedure over the judicial reform. The procedure, which had never been invoked before, could lead to Poland's voting rights being suspended. This is only possible if all other EU members vote in favor of it, however, and Hungary's Viktor Orban has already announced he would not endorse the measure.

It is possible the dispute could also see member states cut funding allocated to Poland in the next EU budget, which starts from 2021. Poland is the biggest recipient of EU handouts for infrastructure and other projects.

The PiS faces key local elections on Sunday, with the ruling conservatives projected to snatch around 34 percent of the vote. This would put them well ahead of their main rivals from the centrist-liberal Civic Platform, who are polling at 24 percent.

The row with Brussels could play badly for the PiS party ahead of the elections, as the vast majority of Poles, including the PiS voters, are pro-Europe, says Poland correspondent for Germany's public broadcaster ARD Jan Pallokat.

"You should not forget that we are in final stages of a very important election," he told DW. "Europe is a very sensitive thing for the PiS party."

In Poland, the Supreme Court is also in charge of validating election results.

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