European Commission sues Poland over EU law violations by top court
Brussels says constitutional court ‘no longer meets the requirements of an independent and impartial tribunal.’
The European Commission said Wednesday it would take Poland to the Court of Justice of the European Union over two controversial rulings from the country’s Constitutional Tribunal, which ruled that the Polish constitution takes precedence over EU law.
The Commission also questioned the legality of the Polish court.
The move signals a further escalation in the long-running legal battle between Brussels and Warsaw, with the EU trying to force the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party to scale back radical judiciary reforms.
In July 2021, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that applying measures taken by the Court of Justice of the EU to the Polish judiciary was unconstitutional — a direct challenge to the authority of the EU court.
A few months later, the Polish constitutional court said Poland’s national constitution took precedence over EU law, rejecting the legal framework upon which the EU was built.
“The Constitutional Tribunal with these rulings breached the general principles of autonomy, primacy, effectiveness, uniform application of Union law and the binding effect of rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union,” the Commission said in a statement.
The EU executive said it had sought to resolve the issue in an exchange with Poland last year, but Warsaw rejected its reasoning.
“The Polish reply does not address the Commission’s concerns,” the statement reads. “This is why the Commission decided today to refer Poland to the Court of Justice of the European Union.”
EU Values and Transparency Commissioner Věra Jourová tweeted: “EU law must be equally applied across the Union.”
The Commission also called into question the status of the Polish court, as several of its justices were appointed in violation of the Polish constitution.
“The Commission also considers that the Constitutional Tribunal no longer meets the requirements of an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law,” it said.
The Commission’s decision prompted a furious reaction from Krystyna Pawłowicz, an outspoken justice on the Constitutional Tribunal. She said the CJEU is not able to challenge the rulings of the Polish court, which were “FINAL.”
“But with this unlawful duplicity they will not affect the jurisprudence of the Polish [tribunal]. The rulings of the [tribunal] will remain unshakeable and universally binding,” she tweeted, adding: “There is no more law in the EU.”
The Commission’s move creates big problems for efforts by Poland to paper over the dispute with Brussels so the Commission can release €36 billion in grants and loans from its pandemic recovery fund — held up over worries that Poland is backsliding on the bloc’s rule-of-law principles.
The Polish parliament passed a law backtracking on some judicial reforms, especially those dealing with how judges are disciplined, part of “milestones” agreed between Warsaw and Brussels to get the recovery fund cash. But last week President Andrzej Duda sent the legislation to the Constitutional Tribunal to see if it violates the Polish constitution.
As well as the current legal action by the Commission, the tribunal also faces an internal rebellion, as several justices refuse to recognize that Julia Przyłębska is still the court’s valid president.
Poland is also already in trouble with the CJEU, as it ignored an order to suspend the functioning of a controversial mechanism for disciplining judges. The EU court imposed a daily fine of €1 million starting in October 2021, which now amounts to €476 million.