WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish lawmakers on Thursday approved removing a controversial disciplinary body within Poland's top court that the right-wing government has used to sanction outspoken judges and which has drawn condemnation from the European Union.
Poland's government expects the removal of the divisive Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court to end its drawn-out spat with the EU, paving the way for an agreement that will result in Brussels' disbursing billions of euros of frozen recovery funds for Poland.
The vote in the lower house was 231-208 with 13 abstentions. The ruling coalition was for the move while the opposition was against it, saying the changes are largely cosmetic.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in parliament before the vote that EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen is expected to sign the agreement in Warsaw on June 2, to approve the key points or “milestones” in the government's aligning of the judiciary rules with EU standards.
Warsaw's relations with Brussels have grown tense under the current government, largely due to the control it has taken of the judiciary, placing loyalists at top bodies and punishing judges who protested those moves.
The moves - which were met with massive street protests - were initiated by the justice minister, whose small party within the ruling coalition secures it a narrow majority in parliament.
Ties with Brussels have warmed up as Poland has taken an active role in supporting Ukraine in its struggle against Russia's invasion. Poland has taken in some 3.6 million refugees from Ukraine, and the government has been pushing for EU funds to accommodate and integrate them.
The new regulations approved by the lower house, or Sejm, amend the law on Poland's Supreme Court to remove its Disciplinary Chamber. The European Court of Justice last year found the chamber to be in violation of the EU's rule of law principles, urged Poland to remove it and fined Poland 1 million euros per day as long as the body continues.
Critics say the change is superficial and misleading, because the controversial body is to be replaced with a professional responsibility chamber at the Supreme Court whose members will be chosen by the president.
Also, the recent appointment of a government loyalist to a top regulatory body, the National council for the Judiciary, suggests the ruling team wants to maintain its control, critics say.
The new judicial regulations still need approval from the Senate, where the opposition has a narrow edge, and from President Andrzej Duda, who is their chief author.
It was not clear if these approvals would be granted before June 2.