Poland’s constitutional court has ruled that interim measures imposed on the Polish judicial system by the top European court are against the country’s constitution, accelerating the collision course between Poland’s right-wing government and Brussels.
Legal observers interpreted Wednesday’s decision from Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal as a move by the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party to undermine the power of European Union laws within the country and even a step away from the 27-nation bloc. Poland joined the EU in 2004, agreeing to abide by its rules and laws.
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“The refusal to implement rulings of the European Court of Justice in Poland is a clear step towards taking Poland out of the European Union,” Jeroen Lenaers, a European Parliament member from the Netherlands, said.
“We fear that the Polish government is on the path to ‘Polexit’,” Lenaers said.
The Constitutional Tribunal said even though Poland is an EU member, domestic issues concerning the judiciary and court system remain the sole purview of Polish authorities and legislation.
Former EU Council head Donald Tusk said on Twitter: “It is not Poland, but [ruling party leader Jaroslaw] Kaczynski that is leaving the EU together with his party.”
“Only we Poles can effectively oppose that,” said Tusk, Poland’s former prime minister who recently made a political comeback.
Departing human rights ombudsman Adam Bodnar said the verdict amounted to telling the top European court that Poland will not apply its rulings.
But Poland’s Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who is behind the controversial changes to the justice system, praised the ruling, saying it defends the country’s constitutional order “against the lawless interference and aggression of the law coming from European bodies”.
“Fortunately the constitution and normality prevail over an attempt … to interfere in the internal affairs of a member state, in this case, Poland,” Ziobro told a news conference.
The ruling was triggered by a 2020 interim decision by the European Court of Justice that ordered the suspension of a new chamber at Poland’s Supreme Court that was set up to discipline judges and prosecutors.
Critics view the chamber as a tool for sanctioning those critical of the changes the government has made to the judiciary since winning power in 2015. The government insists the changes are needed to free the justice system of lingering influences of the communist era, but critics say they just put the justice system under political control.
The changes have put Poland on a collision course with the EU that has triggered sanctioning procedures, and Wednesday’s ruling only adds to the conflict.
“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,” said Constitutional Tribunal judge Bartlomiej Sochanski.
The European court issued temporary injunctions suspending the disciplinary chamber while it drafts an opinion on whether the body violates EU law. But some chamber members protested against the court’s interim decision to the Constitutional Tribunal, which is largely composed of government loyalists.
Just hours before the ruling in Warsaw, the deputy head of the European court emphasised the urgent need for Poland to suspend the disciplinary chamber.
The Constitutional Tribunal is expected to rule soon on whether EU law takes primacy over Poland’s Constitution. The decision on Wednesday was seen as an indication of how the tribunal’s judges might rule.