By Stefan J. Bos
Anti-government protesters gathered Wednesday in front of the Polish Supreme Court building in the capital Warsaw. They welcomed the Court's First President Malgorzata Gersdorf who returns to work in defiance of new controversial rules.
Under new legislation pushed through by the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party she and as many as one-third of the Supreme Court's 73 sitting judges have to step down.
That law cuts the retirement age to 65 from 70 for justices of Poland's Supreme Court, the final appeals court for all civil and criminal cases, and the body that authorizes election results.
Critics say it is an attempt by those in power to increase their influence over the judiciary and other previously independent institutions.
Earlier the government already took control of ordinary courts and the constitutional court.
But speaking earlier to protesters Supreme Court chief Gersdorf urged the crowds not to give up their struggle for the rule of law in this former Communist nation.
She said: "Demonstrations will let the nation understand what the separation of powers is and why is that important. It’s not just crucial for my colleagues and me from the Supreme Court...It’s vital for citizens that judges are independent."
Besides Warsaw, demonstrations have also been held in several other Polish cities in defense of the country's constitution.
The European Union shares those concerns.
Its executive European Commission launched another rule-of-law procedure this week against Poland.
The procedure is intensifying a standoff that could threaten Poland's EU voting rights and funding, explained Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas. "Given the lack of progress and the imminent implementation of the new retirement regime for supreme court judges, the Commission decided today to launch the infringement procedure as a matter of urgency," he said.
Warsaw has received support from Hungary's government with has also come under EU pressure over perceived violations of the rule of law and democratic values.