WARSAW - Polish President Andrzej Duda said he doubted the constitutionality of judicial reform legislation the country needed to pass to access European Union funds and had decided to refer it to the Constitutional Tribunal for review on Friday.
Brussels has withheld 35.4 billion euros ($37.79 billion) in COVID-19 recovery funds in a disagreement over Poland's rule of law, and has required reform on issues such as judicial independence and green energy before giving Warsaw the cash.
Under the bill the Polish parliament adopted this week, the Supreme Administrative Court will start dealing with disciplinary cases of judges. Previously, a controversial chamber of the Supreme Court handled such cases, and critics said the chamber punished judges critical of the government's judicial reforms.
The bill would also mean judges would not face disciplinary action for questioning the independence of colleagues appointed by organs that critics say are politicised. Duda had said earlier he would not approve of legislation that allowed people to question judicial appointments.
"The government concluded a new agreement with the European Commission and it is good that it happened, because both Poland and the EU need a compromise. But it is fair to say that this agreement raises serious constitutional doubts," Duda said in a televised speech.
"Therefore I decided to refer this bill to the Constitutional Tribunal ... which means that the bill will not come into force until the Tribunal expresses its opinion on its compliance with the Constitution."
The Constitutional Tribunal is one of the courts at the heart of Warsaw's row with Brussels over the rule of law. The European Commission has previously said it had serious doubts on the independence and impartiality of the Tribunal.
The EU did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent outside business hours.
The EU also launched an infringement procedure against Poland in 2021 over Tribunal's rulings that challenged the primacy of EU law over national law. Duda said he believed his decision would not delay the payout of EU funds as the country still needs to fulfil further requirements to get the cash. He also called on judges to decide on the issue without delay.
($1 = 0.9369 euros)
(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Pawel Florkiewicz Editing by Frances Kerry and Josie Kao)