The European Court of Justice (ECJ), the European Union’s highest court, has ruled that Poland’s 2019 justice reforms infringe the bloc’s rule of law.
The ruling came on Monday after the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, took Warsaw to court in February, arguing that the Polish Supreme Court lacked the necessary independence and impartiality to rule on the matter.
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Poland introduced a law in 2019 that prevents Polish courts from applying EU law in certain areas and from referring legal questions to the ECJ.
On Monday, the Luxembourg-based ECJ said Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party’s judicial reforms were damaging the independence of judges and undermining the rule of law.
“The Polish justice reform of December 2019 infringes EU law,” the ECJ said in a statement, adding, “The value of the rule of law is an integral part of the very identity of the European Union.”
The court also said publishing online declarations on judges’ membership in associations, nonprofit foundations or political parties violated their right to privacy and could be used to sway them.
The rift between Brussels and Warsaw over Poland being accused of defying the EU’s rule of law has been a longstanding battle.
The 27-member bloc has withheld allocating billions of euros to Poland from the EU budget until Warsaw pledges to abide by the bloc’s rules, and the ECJ also slapped a 1 million euro ($1.07m) daily fine on the country, which was later reduced to 500,000 euros ($535,640) in April, over its refusal to comply with the EU’s interim measures to change its judicial reforms.
On Monday, the ECJ said Poland is “obligated to make the daily penalty payments”.
The court’s announcement also comes several months before Poland heads to the polls.
Over the weekend, large crowds protested in Krakow and other cities across the nation of 38 million people against the government’s policies.
Poland’s ruling party has yet to react to the latest ruling.
A hardline deputy justice minister, Sebastian Kaleta, swiftly dismissed the ruling as “farce”.