From the columns of the New York Times to news articles in Tokyo, the stand taken by European judges in defence of the rule of law in Poland has made headlines across the world.
Judges, lawyers and civil society activists from across Europe joined their Polish peers in a silent march in Warsaw to protest against systematic attacks on the independence of the Polish judiciary by the Polish Government.
John MacMenamin, a Supreme Court judge in Ireland who was taking part in the protests said: “We’ve come here to support Polish judges. We are here for the rule of law, not for politics.”
Former EU Council President Donald Tusk sent a tweet saying “there is no Europe without the rule of law”.
Dacian Ciolos MEP, leader of the Renew Group in the European Parliament said: “Independent and impartial courts are a pillar of European democracy.”
Marta Lempart, a civil society activist in Poland said: “People from all over Europe are with us today, fighting not only for Poland but for our entire European community. The fight for basic European values I happening here, now on the streets of Poland, in Polish courts, in Poland’s Supreme Court.”
The march was organised by Iustitia and Lex Super Omnes, two member associations of MEDEL Magistrats Europeens pour la Democratie et les Libertés.
Speaking in Warsaw, Filipe Marques, President of MEDEL said: ” We have repeatedly called on the Polish authorities to ensure the independence of the judiciary. Our calls remained unanswered. Such a situation is completely unlawful and unacceptable in a European Union Member State.”
Many civil rights groups see the march as a reaction to an inadequate response by the Commission and member states to the growing rule-of-law crisis in Poland.
Speaking in Milan, Roger Casale, Secretary General of New Europeans, a partner organisation of MEDEL said: “The rule of law emergency in Poland concerns all European citizens. If the EU can’t uphold rights in Poland we can have no confidence it can do so anywhere.”
Mr Casale made his comments following a meeting of civil society organisations in December organised by the Italian European Movement.
In a statement signed by over 40 organisations, the Milan meeting called on the Commission to start infringement proceedings against Poland under Art. 258TEU.
Prior to the march, a MEDEL delegation met with the new EU Commissioner of Justice, Didier Reynders, in Brussels.
Monika Frackowiak, Vice-President of MEDEL and a district judge in Poznan who joined the delegation to Commissioner Reynders and was also at the march said: “We expressed our deep concern about the breaches of the fundamental principles of the Rule of Law. And we appealed for a strong and determined reaction by the Commission, as guardian of the treaties.”
Following the march, the NGO “New Europeans” has written to Commissioner Reynders calling on the Commission to investigate whether Poland is in breach of its obligations under the Treaties and with a view to commencing infringement proceedings.