NCA terminates the cooperation with Poland under the Norway Grants Justice Programme
The board of the Norwegian Courts Administration (NCA) has decided to terminate its involvement as partner in the Justice programme in Poland under the EEA grants.
- Against the backdrop of increased political control over the judiciary in Poland, it is not possible for the NCA to continue as partner, says NCA`s director, Sven Marius Urke.
The Justice Programme in Poland was planned to be implemented as part of the EEA grants:
- However, bilateral cooperation has become challenging when common European standards of rule of law in Poland are not adhered to. The reforms of the judiciary in the country has, over time, weakened the independence of Polish courts, and judges have seen their judicial independence undermined in several areas: through political control over the appointment of judges, restrictions on freedom of expression and association.
Furthermore, the system of disciplinary reactions to judges is also under political control.
Poland is criticized by international institutions
The Venice Commission, the OSCE and the EU Commission have all expressed significant concerns about the developments in Poland. According to the latter institutions, it is important to uphold the separation between the state powers, ensure equality before the law and (work) against legal abuses by the state.
The NCA has aimed to contribute in the EEA grants as it has done in previous program periods, and in several other EEA countries.
In view of the threats to the independence of the judiciary and the weakened situation for rule of law, the development in Poland has however exacerbated to the extent that Norwegian courts cannot continue as a partner with the Polish Ministry of Justice under the EEA grants.
- Indeed, there is a risk that the NCA`s participation in the programme can be seen, and used as an acceptance of the judicial reforms. Independence, rule of law, and trust are the underpinning values of Norwegian Courts. The same values are now under attack in Poland, says Urke.
-When Poland ignores warnings from European institutions about the continued political control of the judiciary, it is not possible for Norwegian courts to have a close partnership with the Polish Government.
Urke explains that the decision to withdraw has been demanding:
- Poland is an important country in Europe. As such, we have spent significant time on assessing how to handle the situation, and the final decision was taken by the NCA board.
- The NCA hopes that developments in Poland will turn in a positive direction, in line with European traditions of rule of law and separation of powers, and if so, the cooperation under the EEA could be re-vitalized.
Continued cooperation with other EEA countries
Whilst the NCA will end its involvement in the Justice Programme in Poland, it will continue collaborating with countries such as Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia under the EEA grants.
- We will actively continue our work as partner in these countries, and possibly other countries, says Urke.
- The EEA grants provide crucial support to strengthening the rule of law in several countries. In addition, they are an effective tool to strengthen bilateral bonds and contacts between Norway and grant recipient countries. Therefore, it is crucial that the NCA is involved in this work, Urke concludes.