Slovakian president appeals for observance of rule of law in Visegrad Group and queries Poland’s president on changes to justice system
During an official visit to Budapest and Warsaw, Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová reminded the Central European leaders that the rule of law was one of the fundamental values of the Visegrad Group. She called for an end to the violation of the rule of law, which weakens the position of the eastern Member States in the EU. She also asked Poland’s president asked about the status of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court.
by Anna Wójcik
The rule of law remains one of the primary themes in European politics. Finland, which assumed the Presidency of the EU on 1 July, is giving the issue of rule of law high priority.
The new head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, stressed at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 16 July that the Commission will always remain an independent guardian of the Treaties, and that it will itself be a fierce opponent of anyone who tries to divide and weaken Europe and destroy European values.
On 17 July the European Commission initiated the second stage of the procedure related to breach of EU law against Poland in connection with the disciplinary system for judges.
Such values as rule of law a foundation of Visegrad cooperation
A few days earlier, during official visits to Budapest and Warsaw, Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová had called on the members of the Visegrad Group (V4) to base their cooperation not only on economic issues, but also on values such as the rule of law. Čaputova feels that breaches of the rule of law weaken the position of the eastern Member States in the EU.
On 11 July, following a meeting with Hungarian President János Áder, she appealed to Central European leaders to respect the rule of law. She invoked the common interest: in Čaputova’s view, this is the only way for the eastern Member States to avoid internal divisions of the bloc, which weakens the EU from within.
She added that Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary should be guided by common values, including the rule of law. She recalled that cooperation within the V4 was built in the 1990s on respect for this value and on the pursuit of European integration.
In Budapest, Čaputová also stressed that liberal democracy serves to guarantee the protection of the rights of minorities. These words were of particular importance in that particular place: Slovak-Hungarian tensions are largely focused on historical issues and the situations of the large Hungarian minority in Slovakia and large Slovakian minority in Hungary.
Čaputová queries Andrzej Duda on changes in the courts
During her visit to Warsaw on 15 July, Čaputová reiterated the theme of shared values for Central Europe. She pointed out that Polish–Slovak cooperation is based on these values to an equal extent as on economic cooperation.
She recalled the collaboration of Polish, Czech and Slovak dissidents which contributed to the collapse of the communist regime and the shared experience of defending and consolidating democracy in the 1990s.
She spoke about Lech Walesa, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, but also about Lech Kaczynski (in all Visegrad capitals the President of Slovakia engaged in a retelling of history in the liberal paradigm: in the Czech Republic she invoked the heritage of Václav Havel, while in Hungary she discussed Prime Minister Árpád Göncz).
Stressing the importance of the Polish–Slovak friendship and community of interests, the President of Slovakia was nevertheless not afraid to ask Polish President Andrzej Duda difficult questions.
“I smiled and said to President Čaputová that there are no problems between Poland and Slovakia. We have only common issues, which are in our shared interest, and which need to be managed. That is why we discussed cooperation within the Visegrad Group and the Tri-Seas,” said Andrzej Duda at the start of a joint press conference.
He admitted, however, that apart from regional and economic cooperation, Eastern policy, energy and security, as well as climate policy, a significant part of the “face to face” discussion concerned changes in the Polish judicial system.
“President Čaputová asked me about the reforms of the justice system in Poland. She asked me about the disciplinary system for judges in Poland. We discussed the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, the way in which judges are elected to it and what the Disciplinary Chamber means,” Duda stated.
The detailed nature of these questions demonstrates that the new Slovak president is closely monitoring the state of the rule of law in Poland and cases pending before the Court of Justice of the European Union.
In addition to the CJEU ruling on the Supreme Court Act, at the end of June the Advocate General of the EU Court of Justice delivered a negative verdict on the founding of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, in which a key role was played by the neo-National Council of the Judiciary.
In addition, the European Commission will soon issue a “Reasoned Opinion” on the judicial disciplinary system in Poland. This is part of the procedure that the Commission initiated against Poland in April 2019.
As part of this procedure, the Commission may file a third complaint against Poland to the CJEU regarding the state of the rule of law in Poland (the first was a complaint against the Common Courts Act, in which a judgment will be announced in the autumn; the second was a complaint against the provisions of the Supreme Court Act, which the CJEU has already found to be in breach of EU law).
During a press conference with the Slovakian president, Andrzej Duda again repeated the well-worn assurances of Law and Justice politicians that everything is in order, and once again publicly discredited the Polish judiciary.
“I told the President that the Disciplinary Chamber is a response to the behaviour of the people who are responsible for the justice system. So I have no doubt that the issue of disciplinary responsibility of judges, which unfortunately in many cases has been a fiction in Poland, must be dealt with responsibly and decisively.
And I am pleased that the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Chamber operates as it does, as we have already seen a number of examples where the behaviour of judges did not comport in any way with the rule of law or ethics. I am pleased that these matters have indeed been dealt with responsibly by this House in recent times. And I am convinced that these events are to the benefit of the entire judicial community, and, above all, of the Polish judiciary, because that is the most important thing for me.”
President Čaputová maintained a diplomatic silence during this tirade. It would appear that her position is much closer to that of the new head of the European Commission than to the governments in Warsaw and Budapest.
[translated by Matthew La Fontaine]