Wednesday

28th Jul 2021

Poland's EU future questioned after snub to bloc's top court

  • Warsaw: The vast majority of Polish people want to stay in the EU (Photo: Kamil Porembinski)

Poland has taken a first step over the rubicon in its war on EU law by saying the EU's top court has no authority to impose an injunction on its legal reforms.

The EU court, in 2020, had ordered Poland to suspend a new judicial disciplinary chamber because it was stuffed with political loyalists of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and looked like an instrument to bully judges to toe the line.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The EU court repeated its appeal for Poland to obey in a statement by its vice-president on Wednesday (14 July).

And its final ruling in the disciplinary chamber case could come as early as Thursday.

But Poland's Constitutional Tribunal, which is also stuffed with PiS loyalists, said, later on Wednesday, that Poland was free to ignore EU court orders in this case because they were incompatible with the Polish constitution.

"With the best will to interpret the constitution, it is impossible to find in it the powers of the [EU] Court of Justice to suspend Polish laws concerning the system of Polish courts," Constitutional Tribunal judge Bartlomiej Sochanski said.

"Fortunately, the constitution and normality prevail over an attempt ... to interfere in the internal affairs of a member state, in this case Poland," Polish justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who wields direct authority over the disciplinary chamber, told press.

It also prevailed "against interference, usurpation and legal aggression by organs of the European Union", Ziobro added.

But the clash was just one step in Poland's wider conflict with the EU legal system.

Primacy case

The Constitutional Tribunal is also deliberating whether EU law or Polish law has primacy in the country more broadly speaking.

The wider case, initiated by Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, was due to be finalised earlier this week.

But the verdict is now expected to fall any time between Thursday and 3 August, according to court documents seen by Reuters.

The legal warfare comes amid a similar clash between Germany's Constitutional Court and the EU after the German court, last year, delayed a bond-buying programme by the European Central Bank on grounds it was against the German constitution, even though it had been approved by the EU court.

And for his part, EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders warned, on 1 July, that the German and Polish disputes risked unravelling the EU.

"What's the risk if we don't take care of this? That it will destroy the union itself," Reynders told the Financial Times.

But the Polish case is coloured by PiS' wider divergence from EU norms on judicial independence, media freedom, and LGBTIQ and women's rights.

It is also coloured by PiS' eurosceptic rhetoric, even though the vast majority of Poles support EU membership, according to surveys.

And if PiS and its judges ultimately decided the EU courts had no authority in Poland, that would amount to Poland leaving the EU in legal terms, PiS critics said on Wednesday.

Polexit?

"We are in the process of a legal 'Polexit' which is happening step by step, and we will see where it will lead us," Polish Human Rights Ombudsman Adam Bodnar said.

PiS was "leaving the EU" and "only we Poles can successfully oppose this", former Polish prime minister and EU Council president Donald Tusk, who now leads Poland's Civic Platform opposition party, added.

MEPs also weighed into the debate.

"The refusal to implement rulings of the European Court of Justice in Poland is a clear step towards taking Poland out of the European Union," Dutch centre-right MEP Jeroen Lenaers said.

"Against the wishes of the vast majority of Polish people who want a European Union future, the populist governing PiS party is determined to take Poland out of the EU", Belgian liberal MEP and former prime minister Guy Verhofstadt also said.

Any rulings favouring primacy of Polish law should prompt the EU to "immediately request daily financial sanctions … and suspension of EU funding," Laurent Pech, a professor of European law at Middlesex University in London, told The Guardian newspaper.

Poland and Hungary sanctions procedure back after pandemic

The Article 7 sanctions procedure was initially launched against Warsaw in 2017 by the EU Commission and triggered by the European Parliament in 2018 against Budapest. Now it is back on the table, after the pandemic.

Polish court pushes out critical ombudsman

The controversial Constitutional Tribunal ruled that legislation, setting out that the ombudsman stays in office until lawmakers pick a new one, was unconstitutional.

Column

The Polish government wants EU money - but not EU law

The concern of Germany's Constitutional Court was that the European Court of Justice did not sufficiently check the action of other EU branches of power. The Polish situation is the exact reverse: the government is taking control of the courts.

Feature

'Prison island' birthplace of EU reborn as think-tank venue

Santo Stefano is being revived through a €70m refurbishment project to turn it into a high-level European think-tank, academy and open-air museum aimed at boosting the European integration project by training 'enlightened' EU youth, scholars and politicians.

Far left and right MEPs less critical of China and Russia

MEPs have shown consistent support for action against authoritarian regimes other than Russia or China, but unanimity requirements in the votes of the European Council are considered a clear impediment for a more effective EU foreign policy.

Feature

'Prison island' birthplace of EU reborn as think-tank venue

Santo Stefano is being revived through a €70m refurbishment project to turn it into a high-level European think-tank, academy and open-air museum aimed at boosting the European integration project by training 'enlightened' EU youth, scholars and politicians.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU hits vaccination target, as Delta variant now dominates
  2. European arms 'displaced over a million people', research finds
  3. Brexit: what is the 'Lugano Convention' and does it matter?
  4. US maintains summer travel ban on EU tourists
  5. Does democracy need troublemakers?
  6. Separating migrant families at EU borders must stop
  7. Germany mulls restrictions for unvaccinated as cases soar
  8. 'Prison island' birthplace of EU reborn as think-tank venue

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us