Last Friday, the European Commission gave Polish authorities two months to sort out EU law violations committed by the Constitutional Tribunal- Poland's top court. Should the Polish government fail to do so, the Commission could refer its complaint to the CJEU.
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It is the latest development in the infringement procedure Brussels launched against Poland last December. So far, it has been largely unsuccessful.

The Polish government is trying to wiggle its way out of binding commitments

The main bone of contention is a ruling issued by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal aimed at undermining the primacy of EU law. Poland’s recent agreements with Brussels on the National Recovery Plan (NRP) bypass the decisions of the Constitutional Tribunal because they concern the implementation of CJEU rulings on the judiciary that - according to the Tribunal - are not binding in Poland.

However, the implementation is to be only partial, and the Polish authorities are still - following the Tribunal’s rulings - officially clinging to the position that the CJEU has no authority over the Polish judiciary.

Meanwhile, the CJEU stresses that while the composition of the judiciary indeed remains a prerogative of individual member states, it must at the same time meet the EU requirement of judicial independence, which should be guarded by EU institutions, namely the European Commission and the CJEU.

The penalty clock keeps on ticking

During a hearing in Luxembourg two weeks ago, Andrzej Reczka, a representative of the Polish prosecutor's office, called on the CJEU to consider the rulings of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, which, he argued, had already exhausted its possibilities for pro-EU interpretation of laws - due to the CJEU's disregard for the powers and constitutional traditions of individual EU countries.

Mr. Reczka argued that taking into account the jurisprudence of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal is a necessary step for continuing "a dialogue, which is the best way" to ensure the recognition of the compatibility of Polish law with the EU law.

- We note Poland's calls for dialogue. But usually, a dialogue on EU legislation raises preliminary questions. Constitutional tribunals should bring questions to the CJEU- responded Koen Lenaerts, President of the CJEU.

Undermining the CJEU's rulings and backing it up with decisions of the politicized Constitutional Tribunal had to this day cost Poland €254 million in fines. The penalty increases by another million euros every day and is successively deducted from EU budget transfers to Poland.

Even though President Duda's recent reform bill led to the abolition of the Disciplinary Chamber last week, it only partially fulfilled the CJEU's "interim measure". This is why the Commission decided not to ask the CJEU to lift the penalty and suggested that such an attempt could be made at the CJEU by the Polish authorities themselves.

What about the "doubles"?

In addition, the European Commission points to the incorrect composition of the Constitutional Tribunal, specifically the three so-called "stand-in judges" (sometimes also referred to as "doubles") illegally appointed by President Duda to fill the seats of judges elected in 2015 (before PiS came to power). 

- The Commission found that Poland had failed to comply with its obligations under the Treaty of the European Union because, due to irregularities in the procedures for the appointment of the three judges in December 2015 and in the election of the TK president in December 2016, the Constitutional Tribunal no longer meets the requirements of an independent and impartial tribunal established by law- it was announced in Brussels.

Second such case in the EU’s history

The infringement procedure launched against the Polish Constitutional Tribunal is only the second such disciplinary proceeding in the history of the European Union caused by constitutional judges undermining the primacy of EU law.

In fact, in June 2021, the European Commission initiated a proceeding against Germany - due to a challenge to a CJEU ruling by the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe (the issue being the European Central Bank's monetary policy).

However, Brussels dropped the procedure against Germany as early as last autumn, following Berlin's political commitments to try to prevent similar situations in the future. The German government, still under Chancellor Angela Merkel, assured Brussels in writing that it "unequivocally recognizes the authority of the CJEU, whose rulings are final and binding" and that in its view "the legality of the acts of the Union's institutions cannot be subject to examination of constitutional complaints before the German courts, but can only be controlled by the CJEU".

German authorities have promised to encourage dialogue and meetings between CJEU judges and national constitutional courts to increase mutual understanding of their role within the EU legal order.

- The Polish CJEU rulings, which strike at the primacy of EU law, were a response to requests from Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Minister Zbigniew Ziobro. In Karlsruhe, it was about the conclusions of a group of lawyers not connected or even critical of the government- explains our source in Brussels.

*** 

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