The European Commission (“the Commission”) began infringement procedures against Poland Wednesday in light of recent judgments from the country’s Constitutional Tribunal undermining EU law. The Commission considers these judgments to be in “breach of the general principles of autonomy, primacy, effectiveness and uniform application of Union law and the binding effect of rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union.” (ECJ).
The Commission is specifically referring to the Poland Constitutional Tribunal’s judgments issued in July declaring the temporary injunction measures imposed by the ECJ against the country’s controversial judicial reforms as unconstitutional, and in October expressly declaring the Polish Constitution’s supremacy over EU law.
Stating that the judgments breach Article 19 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), “which guarantees the right to effective judicial protection, by giving it an unduly restrictive interpretation,” the Commission expressed serious doubts regarding the independence and impartiality of the Constitutional Tribunal.
This is not the first time that the Commission has triggered such procedures against Poland. Indeed, the Commission noted three such instances dating back to December 2017 and ending with the ECJ’s imposition of interim measures in July ordering Poland to suspend: the provisions by which the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court can decide on requests for the lifting of judicial immunity, matters of employment, social security and retirement of its judges; the effects of decisions already taken by the Disciplinary Chamber on the lifting of judicial immunity; and the provisions preventing Poland’s judges from directly applying EU law protecting judicial independence and from referring preliminary rulings on such questions to the ECJ.
In October, the ECJ slapped a €1 million daily penalty on Poland until full compliance with the interim measures order is fulfilled.
The Commission also noted other irregularities and deficiencies regarding the election of the President and Vice President of the Constitutional Tribunal, which it said “gives rise to a reasonable doubt in the minds of individuals as to the independence and the impartiality of the judges concerned.” The Commission added:
Whereas the Constitutional Tribunal is called upon to rule on questions relating to the application or interpretation of EU law, the Commission considers that it can therefore no longer ensure effective judicial protection by an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law, as required by Article 19(1) TEU, in the fields covered by EU law.
The European Commission is tasked with identifying possible violations of EU law through complaints from citizens, businesses or other stakeholders, or through other methods. If the identified violations are not rectified by the concerned member country upon notification of the same, the Commission may launch a formal infringement procedure. In the current case, the Polish government has two months to reply to the letter of formal notice on these latest infringement procedures.