WARSAW (ChurchMilitant.com) - Poland is shrugging off threats of international sanction and moving forward with plans to overhaul its court system in an attempt to inject Christian values into its legal machine. By a 235 to 192 vote Thursday, Parliament approved sweeping changes to the judiciary, an inefficient holdover from the communist era and, conservatives argue, a bastion of leftist ideology.
But the move has sparked controversy both inside the country and abroad.
Critics assert that changes implemented under the current administration are undermining democracy and threatening the rule of law. The European Union has even spoken out against recent reforms, threatening to sanction Poland and strip the country of its EU voting rights.
The government is led by the Law and Justice Party, a socially conservative, staunchly Catholic political force that aims to restore Polish society to its Catholic roots.
Party co-founder Jaroslaw Kaczyński was a well-known dissident during the communist period. He launched Law and Justice in 2001 with the aim of sparking a "moral revolution" in Polish society.
Kaczyński asserts that Poland's institutions have been corrupted by powerful liberal elites. He sees the country as morally adrift, owing to a self-reinforcing network of corporate and political interests and "secret service personnel with roots in the communist era who have hijacked Poland and usurped state functions."
Law and Justice swept into power in October 2015, riding a wave of popular support driven by the party's pledge to stamp out corruption and increase aid to the poor. It is loathed by Polish progressives but enjoys strong support among more religiously observant voters, who value its "application of Catholic values."
Since coming to power, the government has been working to purge public institutions — particularly the judiciary and the media — of influences it deems detrimental to the health of Polish society.
Under Thursday's law, judges face mandatory retirement at age 65. Many regional and appellate courts will be dismantled. The country's minister of justice will be responsible for disciplining judges. Such reforms will further Kaczyński's "moral revolution" by "sweeping away the last judges from the communist era."
In response, the European Commission has threatened repeatedly to invoke Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, which would allow for the suspension of Poland's voting rights within the bloc — a warning the European Commission reiterated Wednesday.
"These laws considerably increase the systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland," European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said. "Collectively, they would abolish any remaining judicial independence and put the judiciary under the full political control of the government."
Suspension, however, would require unanimous assent among EU member states, and Hungary, a dedicated Polish ally (and another recent target of an Article 7 threat), has vowed to veto punitive action.
Thursday, Poland's President Andrzej Duda turned down a request from the European Council for a meeting in Brussels over the judicial reform bill.