Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) passed a legislative amendment through Parliament on Wednesday reversing changes it had made at the Supreme Court that the European Union (E.U.) condemned as undemocratic. The European Union's top court has ordered Poland to "immediately suspend" its decision to lower the retirement age of its Supreme Court judges, which it said threatens judicial independence. The E.U. had led unprecedented proceedings against Poland over "systemic threats" to the rule of law that could see its EU voting rights suspended. The European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, also took Poland's government to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for lowering the age at which Supreme Court judges must retire from 70 to 65.
The PiS formed government in 2015 and enjoys strong public support, benefiting from strong economic growth, generous welfare spending, and nationalist rhetoric. The government defended the April 3 retirement law as part of reforms needed to tackle corruption and overhaul a judicial system still haunted by the communist era. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, "We will see what these (EU) institutions are proposing. When we take them into consideration, several possibilities will be analysed." Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro told Parliament, “We are fulfilling our obligations. At the same time, we are pushing forwards with our changes in the justice system.”
In October, the European Court of Justice ordered Poland to suspend the judicial overhaul which had forced many judges to retire, effectively enabling PiS to select their replacements, one of several steps the E.U. said weakened the country’s rule of law. Since its implementation, more than twenty Supreme Court judges, or one-third of the total, have been forced to quit. Under Wednesday’s amendment, judges who were retired can return to work.