EU takes aim at Poland amid fears for bloc's legal order

The European Union is launching legal action against Poland over recent decisions by one of the country’s top courts which have raised troubling questions about the 27-nation bloc’s legal order

Belgium EU Commission
Belgium EU Commission

The European Union on Wednesday launched legal action against Poland over recent decisions by one of the country’s top courts which have raised troubling questions about the 27-nation bloc’s legal order.

In October, Poland’s constitutional court ruled that Polish laws have supremacy over those of the EU in areas where they conflict. When countries join the EU, as Poland did in 2004, they must bring their laws into line with the bloc’s regulations. The European Court of Justice is supreme arbiter of those rules.

In launching its legal action, the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission said that it sees two constitutional tribunal decisions this year as “expressly challenging the primacy of EU law.” The commission also raised doubts about the court’s legitimacy.

Announcing the move, Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said that the rulings “are in breach of the general principles of autonomy, primacy, effectiveness and uniform application of Union law and the binding effect of rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union.”

Gentiloni said the commission, which proposes EU laws and supervises the way they are applied, considers that the Polish court “no longer meets the requirements of an independent and impartial tribunal established by law as required by the (EU) treaty.”

“The European Union is a community of values and of law and the rights of Europeans under the treaties must be protected, no matter where they live in the union,” he told reporters.

The legal action is just the latest in a series of confrontations between Brussels and the right-wing government in Warsaw over the state of the country’s justice system, rule of law standards and media freedoms.

Earlier this year, the commission sought fines to force Warsaw to improve the way the Supreme Court works and suspend new laws said to endanger judicial independence. The ECJ ordered Poland to pay $1.2 million a day to prevent “serious and irreparable harm” to EU legal order and values.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki rejected the commission's objections, and notably that Brussels would question the constitutional court’s independence.

Morawiecki said the court "not only fulfils all independence criteria, but it is a Constitutional Tribunal that stands guard of the constitution and ensures that it remains the highest law of the Republic of Poland,” according to Polish news agency PAP.

Government spokesman Piotr Mueller told PAP that the commission had overstepped its authority. “EU bodies cannot operate outside of their literally expressed competencies,” Mueller said.

Sebastian Kaleta, a deputy justice minister, went further, branding the move “an attack on the Polish constitution and the country’s sovereignty.”

The first step of the legal action involves the commission sending a “letter of formal notice” requesting a reaction and information from Poland. Warsaw is required to reply in detail within two months.

Countries that fail to comply with EU court rulings can face hefty fines and possibly a loss of voting rights.

John Morijn, a law professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands who has been closely following the EU-Poland conflict, welcomed the commission action.

He told The Associated Press that it clarifies that Poland's constitutional court, which has become now a “political body,” threatens some basic EU principles. He said it means the tribunal should no longer be considered a real court and that Polish citizens’ right to a fair trial is “under threat.”

___

Vanessa Gera reported from Warsaw.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in