Daily Briefing

A black day for judicial independence

People protest against the conservative government’s makeover of the Polish judiciary in Warsaw
Poland's protesters are pretty busy nowadays. Source: Reuters

Poland is arduously winding back the clock with a purge and a political takeover. A new law today takes effect allowing the government to forcibly retire 40 percent of its Supreme Court judges by cutting the retirement age from 70 to 65. New ones will be appointed by the country’s right-wing, populist president in a move which strengthens the government. Warsaw also set up a new “extraordinary appeal” chamber that would allow almost any case from the past 20 years to be reopened at the behest of the prosecutor general – undermining any past certainties and allowing politically-motivated changes. The move drags Poland further away from European values, and has Brussels nervous. While Polish lawyers fight the measure, the country’s top judge, Malgorzata Gersdorf, said she’ll keep going to work no matter what.

And across the border, the summer operatic continues in Berlin. The Social Democrats – remember them? – are mulling the compromise forged between the CSU and CDU over migration. As the third party in the governing coalition, they also need to approve it. Will they, won’t they? They have to, but for now, they’re stumbling on the “transit zones” and yesterday, the foreign minister, Heiko Maas, tweeted that the party never supported such camps zones. The question is hoovering up a lot of the air time that was planned for the budget this morning as the SPD wrestles between its principles and the practicalities of power. Meanwhile, the AfD, a party of the populist far-right, is baying for Merkel’s resignation.

And more serious trouble is likely in Europe. Vienna already said it plans to “protect its borders“ if Berlin agrees on the compromise position. While Juncker, the president of the European Commission, is encouraging other countries to support the agreement, a new chapter is starting for the EU under Austria’s lead. This week, Vienna took on the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union from Bulgaria and will chair ministerial meetings at the EU level until January 1, when Romania takes over. Vienna’s plans include reforming the electricity market and new emissions standards, but Mr. Kurz’s tough stance on refugees suggests fundamental changes beyond the environment.

They said it couldn’t be done. German carmakers said it would cost too much to build a factory here for batteries to power e-cars. Now, China’s first investment in battery cell production in Europe will be off a bumpy highway in Thuringia, eastern Germany. Contemporary Amperex Technology will build a gigafactory outside of Erfurt. And German carmakers are already lining up to order billions of euros worth of lithium-ion batteries.

As an American who was raised in Europe, the US seemed to me like a fun, funny place all about cherry pie and Paul Revere. Later, studying and working, I discovered Walt Whitman and Toni Morrison as well as the country’s energy, dynamism and warmth. Now, this glorious Fourth, it’s painfully divided, and its rich inheritance of prosperity, liberty and justice is still unequally enjoyed. Immigrants feel unwelcome and many Americans are afraid. Much work is needed but it’s still worth trying to fix that beautiful country. Let’s fire up the barbecues, bust open our pickle jars and talk.

Lastly, temperatures here are soaring and authorities say these dry conditions caused a wheat field to catch fire after a bird flew into an overhead cable. The fall of the burning bird started the fire which destroyed seven hectares of grain.

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