EU pushes to stamp out Polish constitution, assert power of EU courts over Polish law

By Grzegorz Adamczyk
4 Min Read

Polish officials have reacted with considerable irritation to the European Commission’s decision to take Poland to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over the Polish Constitutional Court ruling that European law may not take precedence over Poland’s constitution. Marcin Przydacz, President Andrzej Duda’s chief foreign policy advisor, said that it is the Polish constitution rather than international treaties that is the source of Polish law. 

The EU commission on Wednesday decided to take Poland to the ECJ over the Constitutional Court’s ruling that EU treaties cannot override the Polish constitution. However, that ruling was simply a reiteration of previous Constitutional Court rulings, and the Polish constitution’s Article 87 makes clear the supremacy of Polish law. It is the same constitution on the basis of which Poland was accepted for accession to the European Union.  

The Polish Constitutional Court ruling, which is being challenged by the European Commission, was related to the dispute over the disciplining of judges. The Polish court ruled that EU law may not authorize Poland’s courts to override Polish constitutional norms. The Constitutional Court also ruled that European institutions may not act beyond the powers that Poland had accepted as delegated to these institutions during its accession treaty. In addition, the Constitutional Court ruled that no European legal interventions can override the powers of the Polish president to appoint judges. 

According to the European Commission, Poland’s Constitutional Court’s rulings violate the principles of supremacy of European law and the rulings of the ECJ. The Polish ruling also violated EU treaties by limiting citizen rights to legal protection through the European courts. The commission argues that all Poles should enjoy the same protection of their legal rights afforded to citizens in other EU member states.

Finally, the commission stated that it believes that the Polish Constitutional Court is no longer independent nor neutral. As a basis for that opinion, the commission cites the allegation that three of the judges of the court were elected in an improper manner and that the election of the chief justice of the court was also improper.

In 2015, the Polish Parliament decided to overrule the election of judges to the Constitutional Tribunal carried out by the previous parliamentary majority on the grounds of procedural and legal errors. This has been hotly disputed within the Polish judiciary and between the conservative government and the liberal opposition. However, there are no doubts about the legality of the election of 12 other justices who serve on the bench of the Constitutional Court. 

The decision by the commission to put Poland before the ECJ on this matter further escalates the dispute over the upholding of the rule of law in Poland. The Polish government argues that its judicial reforms are not a matter for the EU commission, as the organization of the judiciary is a competence of the member states. The commission and ECJ argue that the principle of the rule of law is enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty as a fundamental value of the EU, which no member state may violate.

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