In a further escalation of the rule of law conflict between Warsaw and Brussels, Poland’s Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday that the country was not required to comply with interim measures imposed by the European Court of Justice. The Polish Constitutional Court will also very soon want to consider a larger point of contention in relations between Poland and Europe, on which is more important: the Polish constitution or European law.
Earlier on Wednesday, the European Court ordered Poland – not for the first time – in an interim judgment to stop punishing independent judges. Poland had set up a disciplinary chamber to dismiss or punish critical judges. Following a complaint from the European Commission, the European Court in Luxembourg ruled that Poland should suspend the disciplinary chamber. It is a political body, according to the tribunal, “not an independent and impartial tribunal”.
The conservative nationalist government in power in Poland since 2015 has systematically taken steps to undermine the independence of the judiciary in its own country.
The first step was the illegal appointment of judges to the Constitutional Court, which now essentially declares that the political wishes of Polish politicians trump EU law and treaties. This week, the same hijacked court was due to rule on whether the Polish constitution still trumps EU law, but that judgment has reportedly been postponed.
If the constitutional court follows the will of the government in this case, Poland will de facto place itself outside the European legal order, in which the Luxembourg court always has the last word. The Polish government insists that the European institutions should not interfere with the way they appoint and treat national judges.
On Thursday, the European Court will also render a final decision in another case involving the punishment of independent judges in Poland. When a country ignores or contradicts the judgment of the European Court, the Commission can attempt to impose a sanction. However, he never took this step to safeguard the Polish rule of law.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of July 15, 2021
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