Poland’s top court rules European Court of Justice fines to be unconstitutional

The building of the Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw (source: Wikipedia).
By Grzegorz Adamczyk
3 Min Read

Poland’s Constitutional Court has found parts of EU treaties to be incompatible with the Polish constitution for the third time, this time with the judges ruling that the fines issued against the country by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) were contrary to the country’s constitution.

The latest ruling will deepen the standoff between Warsaw and Brussels over rule-of-law compliance even though the new Donald Tusk government in Warsaw is likely to be more accommodating to both the European court and the European Commission.

The ruling from Poland’s top court made on Dec. 11 stemmed from a case brought by Zbigniew Ziobro, the justice minister and public prosecutor general during PiS’s eight-year rule. Ziobro argued that fines issued against Poland for failing to comply with two interim European court rulings — one to suspend activities at the Turów coal mine and the other to suspend the functioning of the disciplinary chamber of the Supreme Court — were illegal and therefore Poland could not pay the fines imposed.

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The European Commission has, however, been docking the due fines from Poland’s EU funds for months, and the Polish Constitutional Court’s ruling is unlikely to affect that.

The Constitutional Court has ruled in favor of Ziobro’s petition, finding that Article 279 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and Article 39 of the ECJ’s statute — both of which were used to justify the fines against Poland — are incompatible with the Polish constitution.

The Constitutional Court is not questioning the right of the European court to levy fines, only its rights to levy interim measures in the form of financial penalties before actual verdicts are arrived at.

According to Poland’s top court, the basis for imposing penalties can only be an actual judgment of the ECJ as defined by EU treaties, rather than a ruling by an individual judge.

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As well as locking horns with the European court, the Polish Constitutional Court is also heading for conflict with the incoming Polish government as the new administration disputes the validity of the appointment of three of the court’s judges and also argues that the term of office of the chief justice Julia Przyłębska has expired. 

In 2021, the Polish Constitutional Court found parts of EU treaties to be unconstitutional, also in relation to an interim order issued by the ECJ against Poland, and, later in the same year, it again ruled that the Polish constitution takes precedence over those parts of European law which are inconsistent with the constitution’s provisions.

The European Commission’s response to these judgments has been to launch legal action against Poland for alleged violations of EU law by the Polish Constitutional Court. 

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