In a further escalation of a rule of law dispute between Warsaw and Brussels, Poland’s Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday that the country does not have to comply with temporary measures imposed by the European Court of Justice. Soon the Polish Constitutional Court will also want to consider a broader point of contention in the relationship between Poland and Europe, which is more important: the Polish constitution or European law.
Earlier Wednesday, the European Court ordered Poland – not for the first time – in a temporary ruling to stop punishing independent judges. Poland established a disciplinary chamber to remove or punish critical judges. Following a complaint from the European Commission, the European Court in Luxembourg ruled that Poland should suspend the disciplinary circuit. It is a political body, according to the court, “not an independent and impartial court.”
The conservative nationalist government that has been in power in Poland since 2015 has taken systematic measures to undermine the independent judiciary in its country.
The first step was the illegal appointment of judges to the Constitutional Court, which now basically states that the political desires of Polish politicians outweigh the laws and treaties of the European Union. This week, the same hijacked court was due to issue a ruling on whether the Polish constitution has always outperformed European law, but that ruling would have been postponed.
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If the Constitutional Court in this case follows the government’s wishes, Poland will de facto place itself outside the European legal system, with the Luxembourg court always having the last word. The Polish government insists that EU institutions should not interfere with the way they appoint and deal with national judges.
On Thursday, the European Court will also issue a final decision in another case concerning the discipline of independent judges in Poland. When a country ignores or contradicts a European Court ruling, the Commission can try to impose a penalty. However, this step was never taken in protecting the rule of Polish law.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of July 15, 2021