March 4. 2024. 8:22

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Commission sues Poland over court challenge to primacy of EU law

The European Commission will sue Poland at the European Court of Justice over challenges to the primacy of EU law made by the country’s Constitutional Tribunal in two rulings in 2021.

The two rulings “directly challenged the primacy of EU law and the provisions of the EU treaties”, the Commission said in a statement on Wednesday (15 February).

The EU executive added that despite being in a dialogue process with Poland since December 2021, “the Polish reply does not address the commission’s concerns”, prompting it to take the case to the ECJ, the EU’s supreme court, which is part of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

The Commission also stated that “the Constitutional Tribunal no longer meets the requirements of an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law… due to the irregularities in the appointment procedures of three judges and in the selection of its president”.

The court challenge is the culmination of a long-running rule of law dispute between Brussels and Warsaw and relates specifically to two rulings by Poland’s constitutional tribunal, in July and October 2021, which challenged the primacy of EU law over national law.

The constitutional tribunal ruled that parts of the EU treaties are incompatible with the Polish constitution, challenging one of the basic principles of EU law, which says that EU laws take precedence over contradicting national laws.

“The EU Treaty is subordinate to the constitution in the Polish legal system … and, like any part of the Polish legal system, it must comply with the constitution,” stated Judge Bartlomiej Sochanski.

“In Poland the highest legal act is the constitution and all European regulations that are in force in Poland … must comply with the constitution,” PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski added.

The EU executive first launched infringement proceedings against Poland in December 2021, a move which Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki dismissed as being “politicised”.

Brussels has withheld €35.4 billion in COVID-19 recovery funds in the dispute, and has set milestones on issues such as judicial independence and green energy that Warsaw must fulfil to get the cash.

Last week, Polish lawmakers adopted new laws to reform rules on wind farms and, more contentiously, to give the country’s Supreme Administrative Court powers to deal with disciplinary cases of judges instead of a contested chamber of the Supreme Court, which critics say has been used to punish judges critical of the government’s judicial reforms.

The nationalist PiS-led government faces elections this autumn and has seen its polling lead over a broad liberal opposition camp narrow in recent months.

“Everyone in the EU should enjoy the fundamental principles and the rights of the EU legal order, including the right to a court that is independent under EU law,” tweeted the EU justice commissioner, Didier Reynders.

The Luxembourg-based ECJ has the ability to impose daily fines on Warsaw should it agree with the European Commission. It has already imposed daily fines on Poland in two other cases related to rule of law disputes, which amount to €1.5 million a day.