The dispute between the European Union and Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) over that nation’s respect for the democratic process, and respecting EU values is heating up once again. On Wednesday, new legislation revising the retirement age for Poland’s Supreme Court judges went into effect. The new retirement age has been set at 65, requiring roughly one-third of the current sitting judges to retire. Critics and opponents of the new law have labeled it a purge of the courts. The EU considers the action an attempt by the Polish government to control the judiciary. Warsaw’s view of the legislation is quite different. It sees the law as a necessary move to rid the judiciary of communist-era practices, and thinking.
On Monday, the EU began a new infringement procedure against Poland, claiming the new law undermines judicial independence in the nation. This is not the first action taken by the Union concerning Poland’s judicial reforms either. A year ago, a previous infringement procedure was launched as a result of Polish government reforms to lower court system. An Article 7 (1) procedure is also presently underway, which could theoretically lead to Poland’s expulsion from the EU.
The Poland-EU dispute is only part of a larger standoff between the EU and many of its Eastern European members. The cultural divide on the continent between east and west has become more evident lately. For nations like Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland, that lived under communist control for decades, recent EU efforts to infringe on their internal politics, and redistribute migrants to their nations harken back to the days before the end of the Cold War. Memories of that time period continue to influence Eastern Europe immeasurably, even more so now with the Russian threat again emerging to the east. European Union punitive measures aimed at bringing Eastern Europe more in line with Brussels is sparking staunch resistance. Given the other issues currently facing the EU, Brussels has to walk softly around the Polish matter for the time being, or risk transforming Eastern Europe into a powder keg that could bring about the eventual breakup of the European Union.