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Polish PM urges lawmakers to pass new judicial reforms to unlock EU funds

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WARSAW, Dec 14 (Reuters) –

Poland’s prime minister on Wednesday called on lawmakers across the political spectrum to pass amendments to judiciary laws quickly to unblock European Union funds, something he said would boost the zloty currency and curb inflation.

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Poland’s nationalist government has been embroiled in a long-running dispute with Brussels over judicial reforms it carried out several years ago which the EU says undermine the independence of the courts.

But Poland’s public finances have come under huge strain due to the war in Ukraine, making access to the 23.9 billion euros ($25.40 billion) in grants and 11.5 billion in cheap loans crucial for emerging Europe’s largest economy.

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The proposed amendments could face resistance from ultra-conservative United Poland, a junior party in government, threatening the cohesion of the ruling coalition ahead of 2023 elections and potentially leaving it in need of opposition support for the legislation.

“There is no time today to continue the tug-of-war and that is why I have appealed to the opposition parties to bring this process to an end as soon as possible,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a news conference.

United Poland lawmaker Marcin Warchol said on Wednesday the party needed to familiarize itself with the draft amendments before making a decision, but that the issue was “difficult.”

United Poland has been against making compromises which it argues undermine Poland’s sovereignty.

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Borys Budka, from the liberal Civic Platform party, said opposition lawmakers would work on the bill, but that it could not be fast-tracked and its final shape would determine whether they support it.

He said a first reading of the bill could take place on Thursday and it could possibly be voted on next week.

The most recent element of the dispute with Brussels concerned a disciplinary chamber for judges. The EU’s top court has demanded that it be disbanded and imposed fines of 1 million euros a day on Poland for failing to do so.

The government replaced the chamber with a different body, but critics said this did not resolve the core problem of politicization of the judiciary.

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According to the draft bill, the changes will “eliminate potential doubts related to the implementation by the Republic of Poland of its obligations” and strengthen “the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.”

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The amendments would mean that the Supreme Administrative Court would deal with disciplinary cases. Judges would also not face disciplinary action for questioning the independence of colleagues appointed by organs critics say are politicized.

European Union Affairs Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek said the European Commission had accepted these proposals.

However, Laurent Pech, a law professor and Dean of UCD Sutherland School of Law in Dublin, labeled the Polish proposals “a joke.”

“(It) will create a new Disciplinary Chamber 3.0 while leaving unaddressed all systemic issues, including the presence of… fake judges in SAC (Supreme Administrative Court) who cannot lawfully adjudicate,” he wrote on Twitter.

On Tuesday Hungary, which has also been in conflict with the EU over rule of law issues, reached a last-minute deal with Brussels to secure billions in funding next year, helping it avert a severe hit to its currency and bonds.

($1= 0.9409 euros) (Reporting by Pawel Florkiewicz and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, writing by Alan Charlish; editing by Arun Koyyur and Mark Heinrich)

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