The constitutional court of Poland has ruled that some laws of the European Union are in conflict with the Constitution of Poland.
The Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday that some provisions of the EU treaties and some rulings by the EU courts go against the highest Polish law. Two of the 14 judges who considered the case disagreed with the majority opinion.
The decision is expected to define the future of Poland’s already troubled relationship with the 27-member bloc, which has criticized attempts by the right-wing Polish government to exert more influence over the judiciary.
But the court majority said that the country’s membership in the EU does not give the EU courts supreme legal authority and does not mean that Poland has transferred its sovereignty to the EU. They said that no state authority in Poland would consent to an external limitation of its powers.
The ruling came after months of court proceedings in which representatives of the Polish government, president and parliament argued that the Polish Constitution predates EU law and that the rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union to sometimes they conflict with the Polish legal order.
Representatives of the country’s human rights commissioner argued on Thursday before the decision was issued that Poland agreed to abide by the EU legal order when it joined the bloc in 2004. They said challenging that order would lower standards of legal protection for people. in Poland.
“It is a confederation of undemocratic forces against Poland’s membership in the European Union,” tweeted Michal Wawrykiewicz, a pro-EU lawyer who is critical of the government. He called it a “black day” in Polish history.
The Polish government insists that the judicial system and the judiciary are the exclusive competence of the EU member countries and not the EU, and has ignored a number of rulings by the EU courts.
But a deputy foreign minister, Pawel Jablonski, insisted that a ruling giving primacy to the Polish Constitution would not go against the EU accession treaties. He said he would instead give them a new definition in a situation where, he said, the high courts of many member countries have not followed the rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The court opened the case in July on the motion of Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. He asked for the review after the EU court ruled that the bloc’s law takes precedence over Polish law. The verdict considered the judicial appointment procedure under Poland’s current right-wing government.
The European Parliament adopted a resolution last month calling on Morawiecki to cancel the case, underlining the “fundamental nature of the primacy of EU law as a fundamental principle of EU law.”
The EU considers the Constitutional Court itself to be illegitimate due to the political influence of the ruling Polish party in the appointment of some of its judges. Many of them are loyal to the government, including the president of the court, Judge Julia Przylebska, who is heading the panel in the current case.
Warsaw vs Brussels
In Thursday’s ruling, the court said that the constitution is the supreme law in Poland and that any international agreement or treaty, which is of a lower rank, must respect that supreme law. EU treaties are considered international agreements signed by nation-states.
The Polish court pointed to two specific articles of the EU treaties: Article 1, which establishes the existence of the European Union and the attribution of competences of the Member States, and Article 19, which determines the competences of the Court of Justice of the EU, whose mission is to ensure compliance with EU legislation throughout the bloc.
The latest escalation comes amid a broader dispute over profound changes that the ruling Law and Justice party has initiated in the Polish judicial system – changes that the EU sees as an erosion of democratic checks and balances.
The main point of contention is a controversial chamber of judges that Poland established with the power to discipline judges and prosecutors for their decisions.
Brussels sees the disciplinary chamber as a threat to the country’s judicial independence that subjects judges to political scrutiny. The Polish government insists that it is a fundamental tool to eliminate the remnants of the communist regime.
The EU Court of Justice issued a court order in July suspending both the courtroom and the effects of the decisions it had already taken on lifting judicial immunity.
However, the Polish constitutional court rejected the ruling, arguing that it was incompatible with the Polish status and therefore not binding.
In response to this, the European Commission issued an ultimatum and gave Poland until August 16 to abide by the Luxembourg ruling and suspend the disciplinary chamber. Otherwise, the executive would request daily sanctions, the final and most forceful step of an infringement procedure.
Although the Polish government sent a response on August 16 and promised to dismantle the chamber, the Commission was not satisfied and believes that the country “has not taken all the necessary measures to fully comply” with the order. The disciplinary room continues to function today, the executive said.
Consequently, the Commission asked the Court of Justice of the EU to slap Poland with daily economic sanctions until the precautionary measures issued in July are applied. The Luxembourg court is examining the Commission’s request and no fines have been imposed so far.
At the same time, the European Commission is evaluating Poland’s € 36 billion recovery and resilience plan, but questions remain about its content. Brussels has delayed the publication of its assessment several times and says it is in dialogue with the Polish authorities to negotiate changes that could guarantee the executive’s green light.
The Commission is also preparing to activate a never used mechanism which conditions the receipt of EU funds on respect for the rule of law. The conditionality system, which can suspend EU payments, must be approved by the EU Council with a qualified majority of votes.
It is not yet clear what kind of practical ramifications the Polish ruling will have in practice. The EU has never seen the judicial system of a member state so openly challenge the foundations of the bloc.
The EU is, in essence, an entity based on legal principles. The member states agree to confer powers on the union, which, in turn, drafts and passes laws that are equally applicable throughout the bloc. These laws, along with multiple programs, projects and economic plans, are intended to promote the common interests of all member states.
‘A black scenario in Poland is coming true’
The reading of the Polish verdict coincided with a meeting of the Ministers of the Interior and Justice, which was attended by Didier Reynders, European Commissioner for Justice. When asked about the ruling, Reynders said he needed more time to examine the court’s decision, but emphasized the primacy of EU law over national law.
The Commissioner also underlined two additional principles: all decisions of the Court of Justice of the EU are binding in all national courts and only the Luxembourg court has jurisdiction to determine whether an act of another EU institution infringes EU law . Reynders added that the executive intends to act as a “guardian of the treaties” and to use “all our tools at our disposal.”
The main parties in the European Parliament took to Twitter to condemn the Polish verdict and urged the Commission to freeze payments from the country, which is the largest recipient of EU funds.
“Today’s verdict in Poland cannot be left without consequences. The primacy of EU law must be indisputable. Violating it means challenging one of the founding principles of our Union,” he added. said David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament.
“By declaring that the EU Treaties are not compatible with Polish law, the illegitimate Constitutional Court of Poland has put the country on the path to Polexit”, said a spokesperson of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest in the chamber.
“EU member states must not sit idly by when the Polish government continues to dismantle the rule of law. Neither can the European Commission. Our money cannot fund governments that flout and deny our jointly agreed rules.”
“A black scenario in Poland is becoming reality! The PiS-led Court has ignored the primacy of EU law, violating the fundamentals of the EU. Polish judges who judge on the basis of EU law can be prosecuted, “said the left-wing group S&D, calling for the opening of a new infringement procedure.
“The PiS government has created a crisis, but it is the rights of Polish citizens that are at risk. Polish citizens are EU citizens and deserve the full rights and protection offered by EU law.” wrote Malik Azmani, first vice president of the liberal group Renew Europe.
“A Polexit of the EU legal order seems to be inevitable. In fact, it makes cooperation impossible,” added his colleague Sophie in ‘t Veld.
“Today’s decision will be very painful for Polish citizens. They will have to bear the cost of frozen EU funds,” he added. tweeted Daniel Freund, German member of the Greens. “This hack was started by PiS. It’s their mess.”
Martin Schirdewan, co-chairman of the group The Left, regretted the Polish decision and foretold other autocratic governments will demand similar verdicts from their constitutional courts.
Amnesty International said it was “another dark day for justice in Poland”.
The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, to which PiS belongs, came out in defense of the Polish constitutional court.
“Those who ask for Polexit should be reminded that our Union was created by member states to serve them, and not the other way around,” the group said. wrote in response.
“The EU has no legal right to interfere with how judges are appointed in a democratic member state.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism