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I UNDERSTAND
English Section

Polish court says EU interim measures unconstitutional

15.07.2021 09:00
Interim measures imposed by the European Union’s top court on Poland's justice system are against the national constitution, a Polish court has said, adding to friction between Warsaw and Brussels.
Poland has been a member of the European Union since May 1, 2004.
Poland has been a member of the European Union since May 1, 2004.Photo: PAP/Leszek Szymański

The ruling by the Warsaw-based Constitutional Tribunal on Wednesday was one of two the Polish panel of judges was expected to hand down this week amid a long-standing dispute over whether national law takes precedence over EU law.

"With the best will to interpret the constitution, it is impossible to find in it the powers of the EU Court of Justice to suspend Polish laws concerning the system of Polish courts," Constitutional Tribunal judge Bartłomiej Sochański was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

The Warsaw headquarters of Poland's Constitutional Tribunal on Wednesday. The Warsaw headquarters of Poland's Constitutional Tribunal on Wednesday. Photo: PAP/Wojciech Olkuśnik

The ruling in Warsaw came after the Court of Justice of the European Union told Poland in an interim measure last year to suspend a panel the country's governing conservatives had created within the Polish Supreme Court to discipline judges.

Critics said the disciplinary panel would be used to punish judges for making decisions Poland's rulers do not like.

The disciplinary chamber asked the top Polish tribunal whether such a suspension was constitutional as part of proceedings initiated by Brussels against Warsaw.

Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro told reporters on Wednesday: "Fortunately the constitution and normality prevail over an attempt ... to interfere in the internal affairs of a member state."

On Thursday, the Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw was expected to hand down a broader ruling on whether the Polish constitution takes precedence over EU treaties.

Warnings of 'Polexit'

Shortly before the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling on Wednesday, the deputy head of the Court of Justice of the European Union again told Poland to immediately halt all activities of the disciplinary chamber, comments echoed by EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders, the Reuters news agency reported.

Meanwhile, opposition politicians in Poland have slammed the government for putting the country on a collision course with Brussels, warning that questioning the primacy of EU law could eventually result in a "Polexit," or Poland's departure from the bloc.

Poland’s parliament in January last year voted through new rules to discipline judges, dismissing claims by critics that the legislation could undermine judicial independence.

The EU’s top court in April last year ordered Poland to immediately suspend the disciplinary chamber.

The European Commission said in December it was moving to follow up on an infringement procedure against Poland to protect the independence of the country’s judges.

Most Poles say national law has primacy over EU law: survey

Meanwhile, most Poles believe that their national law takes precedence over European Union law, according to a survey.

Seventy-eight percent of those polled by the Dziennik Gazeta Prawna daily and private radio broadcaster RMF FM last year said the Polish constitution had primacy over the laws of the European Union, of which Poland has been part since 2004.

Sixty-three percent said national law as a whole should take precedence over EU law, according to a report.

Polish judicial system 'deeply flawed': PM

Poland's governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, which came to power in late 2015 and secured a second term in October 2019, has argued that broad changes are needed to reform an inefficient and sometimes corrupt judicial system marred by communist holdovers.

The changes have triggered a series of clashes between Warsaw and Brussels.

The Polish prime minister has said that some of the legal changes made by his conservative government have met with criticism abroad because they are not understood in Western Europe.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki argued in 2017 that his country’s judicial system was “deeply flawed” and that his ruling conservatives were elected with a mandate to overhaul it.

(gs)

Source: IAR, PAP, Reuters