Poland's lower house of parliament passed a contested Supreme Court law on which the opposition says would erode the independence of the judiciary and undermine democracy.

Leader of Law and Justice (PiS) party Jaroslaw Kaczynski votes on a contested Supreme Court law in Warsaw, Poland, July 20, 2018.
Leader of Law and Justice (PiS) party Jaroslaw Kaczynski votes on a contested Supreme Court law in Warsaw, Poland, July 20, 2018.

TWEET: Polish lawmakers adopt a controversial reform of the Supreme Court, despite days of street protests.

Polish lawmakers on Thursday adopted a controversial reform of the Supreme Court, despite days of street protests, concern from the opposition over judicial independence and EU threats of unprecedented sanctions.

The lower house of parliament, which is controlled by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party in power, voted 235 to 192 -- with 23 abstentions -- in favour of the law giving the justice minister power to select candidates for the court.

The measure is only the latest in a slew of contested judicial reforms that the PiS says are necessary to make the judicial system more effective and fight against corruption.

But the European Commission's vice president Frans Timmermans on Wednesday bluntly warned the changes "considerably increase the systemic threat to the rule of law" in Poland.

"Collectively, they would abolish any remaining judicial independence and put the judiciary under full political control of the government."

He had warned Poland that if it did not suspend the reforms, the Commission could move towards halting Poland's voting rights in the 28-nation bloc further down the line -- a so-called "nuclear option" that the EU had never invoked.

A "rampant coup"

Grzegorz Schetyna, leader of the centrist opposition party Civic Platform (PO), had denounced the Supreme Court reform earlier Thursday as "a rampant coup". 

The measure still needs to be adopted by the senate, also controlled by the PiS, and signed by President Andrzej Duda to become law.

Duda, a lawyer-turned-politician who is closely allied with the PiS, on Thursday let it be known that he had refused a meeting with European Council president Donald Tusk, who had expressed concern over the situation. 

The PiS came to power in late 2015 after eight years in the opposition and promptly began introducing changes in areas like the judiciary and the media that critics have called bids to consolidate power. 

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Warsaw and other cities across Poland this week to demonstrate against the latest judicial reforms.

Last week, both houses of parliament adopted legislation stipulating that from now on the parliament will choose the members of the National Council of the Judiciary, which oversees the selection of judges and is meant to protect the independence of the courts. 

They also adopted a second bill stating that the justice minister will name the chief justices of Poland's common courts. 

European Council responds

European Council President Donald Tusk, formerly Poland's prime minister, said on Thursday that changes to the judiciary carried out by the government in Warsaw are "backward", going against European values and risking marginalising Poland.

Tusk also said in a statement that he had asked Poland's President Andrzej Duda for a meeting to discuss the "political crisis" in the largest ex-communist EU member state.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies