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Poland blinks in EU rule-of-law dispute

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Poland’s de facto leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, has said the country would change its system of disciplining judges to compromise in a long-standing legal dispute with the EU.

However, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party also said the disciplinary chamber – which the EU has said breaks the bloc’s laws – would not so much cease functioning, as take a different shape.

The disciplinary chamber will be changed from its “current form”, Kaczyński told state-owned Polish news agency PAP on Saturday (7 August).

The EU’s top court last month repeated its call that the disciplinary chamber should be “immediately” suspended because of a lack of independence and lack of impartiality, which violated EU laws.

In response, Poland’s top court rejected the EU’s order as being unconstitutional.

The outcome added to concerns that Poland was no longer abiding by EU rules, putting into question the EU’s legal functioning.

Critics say the disciplinary chamber is used to punish judges critical of the Kaczyński government and to put political pressure on judges.

The EU Commission has given Warsaw until 16 August to comply or face a fine.

Meanwhile, Kaczyński said the government will propose changes to the disciplinary system in September.

“We will shut down the disciplinary chamber in the format under which it currently operates and this will remove the subject of the [EU] dispute,” Kaczyński told PAP, without giving details of the specific legal solution.

“There is the issue of the format of the disciplinary chamber, but it does not mean that the chamber will not function in any form,” he said.

Kaczyński also said he did not accept “such rulings as they definitely go beyond the treaties” of the EU, and said that he wanted judges to no longer have legal immunity in Poland.

He added that it would be a test for the EU if it had a “semblance of goodwill” or just wanted Poland “to be ruled only by those handpicked by the EU authorities”.

His comments were a sign that Poland might seek to de-escalate the rule-of-law conflict with the EU, as it wants to secure its access to the almost €24bn of EU funds available for its post-Covid economic recovery.

However, the disciplinary chamber is only part of the legal disputes between Poland and the EU.

Poland has been under EU scrutiny since 2017 because Kaczyński’s judicial overhaul has continuously raised alarm over the independence of the judiciary.

“The mere dissolution of the Disciplinary Chamber doesn’t solve the problem of past, unlawful decisions and sanctions adopted by this body,” Laurent Pech, professor of European law at Middlesex University, London told Reuters.

The PiS-led ruling coalition government has been split over whether to compromise with the EU.

On Friday, Poland’s justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, who leads United Poland, one of the smaller and more hawkish coalition partners, insisted that Poland should not back down.

“I am a staunch opponent of succumbing to the illegal blackmail of the European Union carried out by the Court of Justice of the European Union,” Ziobro told the Rzeczpospolita daily.

“The belief that the EU is a good uncle and gives us money, and that we should accept all its demands at all costs, is propaganda and false,” he also said according to Reuters, while adding that Poland remain in the EU, but not at any cost.

In the meantime, the president of Poland’s Supreme Court, Małgorzata Manowska, last Thursday partially suspended the disciplinary chamber for judges until mid-November.

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[Ticker] US to lift Covid travel-ban on EU tourists

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Fully vaccinated travellers from the EU and the UK will be let back into the US from “early November” onward, the White House said on Monday, ending an 18-month ban and prompting airline firms’ shares to climb. “This new international travel system follows the science to keep Americans … safe,” a US spokesman said. The EU recently recommended increased restrictions on US visitors, amid anger at lack of US reciprocity.

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Ten women and girls killed every day in Mexico, Amnesty report says | Global development

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At least 10 women and girls are murdered every day in Mexico, according to a new report that says victims’ families are often left to carry out their own homicide investigations.

The scathing report, released on Monday by Amnesty International, documents both the scale of the violence and the disturbing lack of interest on the part of Mexican authorities to prevent or solve the murders.

“Mexico is continuing to fail to fulfil its duty to investigate and, therefore, its duty to guarantee the rights to life and personal integrity of the victims as well as to prevent violence against women,” says the report, Justice on Trial.

“Feminicidal violence and the failings in investigation and prevention in northern Mexico are not anecdotal, but rather form part of a broader reality in the country,” the report adds.

Femicide has been rife in Mexico for decades – most notoriously in an epidemic of murders which claimed the life of some 400 women in the border city Ciudad Juárez during the 1990s. In recent years, a growing feminist movement has held massive street protests against the violence, but authorities have proved unwilling to take action to stop the killing.

“It’s always a question of political will,” said Maricruz Ocampo, a women’s activist in the state of Querétaro.

Ocampo has been part of teams lobbying state governors to issue an alert when femicides reach scandalously high levels – a move to raise awareness and mobilise resources. But officials often resist such moves, she said, as governors worry about their states’ images and investment.

“They refuse to recognise there is a problem,” she said.

The president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has also downplayed the problem. He branded the women protesting on 8 March, International Women’s Day, as “conservatives” and alleged a dark hand manipulating the demonstrations.

When asked last year about rising violence against women, he responded, “Tell all the women of Mexico that they are protected and represented, that we’re doing everything possible to guarantee peace and quiet and that I understand that our adversaries are looking for ways to confront us.”

Mexico recorded the murders of 3,723 women in 2020. Some 940 of those murders were investigated as femicides.

The Amnesty report focused on Mexico state, a vast collection of gritty suburbs surrounding Mexico City on three sides. It has become notorious for femicides over the past decade – and for the way the former president, Enrique Peña Nieto, a former Mexico state governor, ignored the problem.

The report found cases of families carrying out their own detective work, which were ignored by investigators. In many cases, authorities contaminated crime scenes or mishandled evidence. They often did not even pursue leads such as geolocation information from victims’ mobile phones.

In the case of Julia Sosa, whose children believe she was killed by her partner, two daughters found her body buried on the suspect’s property – but had to wait hours for police to arrive and process the crime scene. One of her daughters recalled the subsequent interview process, in which “the police officer was falling asleep”.

Sosa’s partner hanged himself, prompting police to close the case, even though family members said there were more leads to pursue.

In states rife with drug cartel violence, activists say cases of femicides go uninvestigated as impunity is commonplace.

“The authorities say it’s organised crime and that’s it,” said Yolotzin Jaimes, a women’s rights campaigner in the southern state of Guerrero. “Many of these aggressors find protection under the excuse of organised crime.”

The persistence of femicides is a stark contrast to recent gains by the women’s movement in Mexico. The country’s supreme court decriminalised abortion earlier this month. A new congress recently sworn in has gender parity and seven female governors will be installed by the end of year – up from just two before last June’s election’s

The decriminalisation of abortion “let off some steam” from the pressure driving the protests “because part of the demands was over the right to choose,” Ocampo said. “But when it comes to violence, we still see it everywhere.”

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US official urges EU to speed up enlargement

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Gabriel Escobar, the US’ newly-appointed acting deputy secretary of state for South Central Europe, has urged Europe to speed up Western Balkans enlargement. “To return 20 years later and see that there hasn’t been much progress on that front was a little disappointing,” he told the RFE/RL news agency Friday, referring to his last post in Europe in 2001. “We would like to see a more rapid integration,” he said.

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