Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal has ruled that interim measures issued by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to protect the independence of Polish judiciary are not in line with the country’s Constitution.
After a number of attacks on judicial independence in Poland, the European Commission asked the ECJ to grant interim measures to suspend the power of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court to decide on requests for the lifting of judicial immunity, which it did on 8 April 2020.
On Wednesday, the ECJ issued new interim measures regarding a second case the Commission brought on April 1 this year over the so-called “muzzle law”, which allows the government to penalise Polish judges for their rulings.
The Commission said in April that the law in question undermines “the judicial independence of Polish judges” and is “incompatible with the primacy of EU law.”
Polish Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro said on Wednesday, “The Constitutional Tribunal has become part of the jurisprudence of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal and other tribunals in Europe, which have adjudicated equally consistently in recent years. The constitution and normality prevail over attempts of political interference by EU bodies in the Polish legal order.”
On Thursday, European Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, said the executive was “deeply concerned” by the decision of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal, adding that it “reaffirms our concerns about the state of the rule of law in Poland.”
The Commission says it expects Poland to ensure that all decisions of the ECJ are “fully and correctly implemented” and that it will not hesitate to make use of its powers under the Treaties to safeguard the uniform application and integrity of Union law.
“Blinded by the power, the PiS [government] has gone mad, forgetting that we are one of the most pro-EU societies. Freedom cost too much”
Robert Biedroń, S&D
Manfred Weber, chair of the EPP Group, the European Parliament’s biggest political grouping, said he was “very concerned” by the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling.
He said, “This should serve as a warning to all Poles who are truly pro-European and want a European future for their children and grandchildren: your government is clearly on the path to Polexit.”
Polish S&D deputy Robert Biedroń said that the “pseudo-constitutional” Tribunal had “just paved the way for Polexit.”
“Blinded by the power, the PiS [government] has gone mad, forgetting that we are one of the most pro-EU societies. Freedom cost too much,” he added.
Fellow S&D member, group leader Iratxe García Pérez, commented that the EU is not an à la carte menu, where Member States pick and choose which rules to apply are not compatible with membership.
“Today’s ruling of the PiS-controlled Constitutional Tribunal is an attack on the EU legal order. The Commission and the Council must react with all tools at their disposal.”
Former European Commissioner and Polish EPP member Danuta Hübner said that Polish judges remain European judges, adding, “and although the authorities and the neo-Constitutional Tribunal break the EU law that is binding on us, judges must meet European standards of independence, because they can potentially implement European law.”
In a joint statement, Jeroen Lenaers EPP Group spokesman for Justice and Home Affairs, and Andrzej Halicki, vice-chair of Parliament's Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, described the refusal to implement ECJ rulings in Poland as “a clear step towards taking Poland out of the European Union.”
“We fear that the Polish Government is on the path to Polexit. It cannot be seen in any other way than a political decision of the Tribunal with unlawfully staffed persons, including former politicians of the ruling governing coalition”, the MEPs added.
“This should serve as a warning to all Poles who are truly pro-European and want a European future for their children and grandchildren: your government is clearly on the path to Polexit”
Manfred Weber, EPP Group Chair
Polish Greens/EFA member Sylwia Spurek asked whether Polish leaders were “consciously seeking to fuel the conflict with the EU.”
“Breaking the rule of law may seem simple, but these decisions will have enormous consequences. The greatest cost of this will be incurred by Polish citizens and beneficiaries of EU funds,” she said.
Fellow Greens/EFA deputy Terry Reintke said, “We have to defend the primacy of EU law. This is about the very fundament of European integration. A Europe based on rule of law, cooperation and common rules is at stake. Too much time has been wasted. We need a determined Commission to finally stand up to this.”
Michal Šimečka, vice-chair of the Renew Europe group, commented, “One day people will look back at the mountain of evidence of rule of law decline in Poland under PiS and wonder how come large segments of the political spectrum remained in denial for so long.”
Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister and Renew Europe MEP, said, “Against the wishes of the vast majority of Polish people who want a European future, the populist governing PiS party is determined to take Poland out of the EU.”
“Will anyone act to stop them before it is too late?” he asked.
French Renew Europe colleague Marie-Pierre Vedrenne said that the primacy of European law remains a founding principle of the EU, without which nothing is possible.
“By rejecting the findings of the EU Court of Justice on the rule of law, Poland chooses to free itself from the European legal order,” she added.
Donald Tusk, former European Council President and current President of the EPP Group, said, “It is not Poland, but Kaczyński with his party leaving the EU. And only we, Poles, can successfully oppose it. Because, contrary to the PiS propaganda, no one in the EU is forcibly holding back.”
In April, the Constitutional Tribunal gave human rights watchdog Adam Bodnar three months to vacate his position, eliminating one of the last vestiges of independent scrutiny of the PiS government.
The move was widely condemned by EU policymakers, who called it “another blow for democracy in Poland.”