Warsaw combative as EU starts infringement over constitutional court ruling

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks during a parliamentary debate on the Polish budget 2022 in the Sejm (lower house) in Warsaw, Poland, 17 Deccember 2021. [EPA-EFE/Tomasz Gzell]

The European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Poland on Wednesday (22 December) over rulings by the country’s constitutional tribunal in July and October that challenged the primacy of EU law over national law. Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki rejected the move as “politicised”.

“The Commission considers that these rulings of the Constitutional Tribunal 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,” the Commission said.

The legal action by the Commission, which is the guardian of EU treaties, is an escalation of the conflict with Warsaw over the rule of law that began when Poland’s ruling nationalist and euro-sceptic PiS party took power in 2015.

Poland’s highest court ruled on 7 October that parts of EU treaties are incompatible with the Polish constitution, challenging a key tenet of European integration in a sharp escalation of a dispute between Brussels and Warsaw over the rule of law. Critics say that by challenging the supremacy of EU law, the PiS government not only jeopardises Poland’s long-term future in the 27-nation bloc but also the stability of the EU itself.

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The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political group in the European Parliament, sounded the alarm on Thursday (7 October), warning that Poland’s ruling party is pushing the country towards ‘Polexit’.

The clash has delayed the release of billions of euros from EU recovery funds to Poland because the Commission says Poland’s courts are not independent from political influence meaning the funds are not protected from misuse.

In a statement, the Commission said it was also launching the infringement steps because the Polish constitutional tribunal’s rulings deprived individuals seeking action through the Polish courts of the right to effective judicial protection set out in EU treaties.

“Finally, the Commission has serious doubts on the independence and impartiality of the Constitutional Tribunal and considers that it no longer meets the requirements of a tribunal previously established by law,” the Commission said.

The Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki does not agree with the opinion of the European Commission concerning the Polish Constitutional Tribunal, he said on Wednesday, as he rejected accusations that it had been politicised.

The European Commission’s decision to launch an infringement procedure against Poland is an attack on the Polish constitution and the country’s sovereignty, a deputy justice minister said on Wednesday.

“The EC is initiating proceedings and wants to subordinate the Constitutional Tribunal in Poland to EU law,” Sebastian Kaleta wrote on Twitter. “This is an attack on the Polish constitution and our sovereignty.”

Poland has two months to reply to the letter of formal notice sent on Wednesday. If the Commission is not satisfied with Warsaw’s reply, it can send Poland a reasoned opinion requesting it to comply with EU law, again with a two-month reply period.

After that, the Commission can sue Poland in the European Court of Justice, which can impose daily fines on Warsaw until it complies. It has already imposed such daily fines on Poland in two other cases, which now add up to €1.5 million a day.

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As Poland’s row over judicial independence continues to escalate, the EU’s highest court has imposed a €1 million daily fine on Warsaw for not implementing its summer orders.

On 14 July, the European Court of Justice (CJEU) ordered Poland to suspend …

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