The European Court of Justice (ECJ), the EU’s highest court, ruled on Monday that Poland’s government violated EU law with its 2019 judicial reforms and upheld a decision by the European Commission to fine the member state.
The decision refers to rulings by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal in July and October 2021 on the incompatibility of provisions in EU treaties with Poland’s own constitution.
The EU referred its Eastern European member to the court in February after talks proved fruitless. Poland has clashed several times with Brussels over reforms to its judicial system which the — one of the core tenets of EU law.
“The Polish justice reform of December 2019 infringes EU law,” the court said in a statement. “The value of the rule of law is an integral part of the very identity of the European Union.”
Why did the EU take Poland to court?
The EU challenge to the Polish Constitutional Tribunal said that the decision by the latter had intentionally undermined the primacy of EU law which it said aims to protect the rights and benefits of all EU citizens are protected, including Polish citizens.
The case rested largely on the ability of judges in Poland to act independently, with the EU pointing to the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Chamber and the exposure of information about the private lives of judges as the main infringements of the principle of impartiality.
The European Commission said in a press release in February that the “Constitutional Tribunal with these rulings breached the general principles of autonomy, primacy, effectiveness, uniform application of Union law and the binding effect of rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union.”
“The Commission also considers that the Constitutional Tribunal no longer meets the requirements of an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law,” it added.
Ongoing clash over the rule of law in Poland
The row between Warsaw and Brussels over Poland’s judicial reforms has been going on for several years.
The ruling right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) has been with a series of reforms that give the government significant control over the judicial system.
The EU has withheld billions in pandemic relief funds and after Poland refused to abide by a The court later reduced this to €500,000 per day.
Monday’s ruling brought the daily penalties to an end but ordered that Poland must still pay off the fines that have accrued.
“The effects of those orders cease to apply with today’s judgment which closes the proceedings. However, this does not affect Poland’s obligation to make the daily penalty payments due in respect of the past,” the ECJ said.
The ECJ previously ruled against the Constitutional Tribunal back in October 2021.
Monday’s ruling comes as Poland heads towards a parliamentary election later in the year. The opposition Civic Forum group to mark the country’s first democratic election in 1989 and to condemn the PiS party.
At the same time, moderate forces within PiS, which are looking to find a solution with the EU, are at loggerheads with the radical far-right of the party which refuses to back down.
ab/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
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