The rule of law in Poland sustained another blow on July 14. The country’s politically compromised Constitutional Tribunal, acting at the behest of the Polish government, ruled that an April 2020 decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) was contrary to Poland’s Constitution. CJEU had issued interim measures aimed at protecting the independence of the Polish judiciary. In doing so, the tribunal effectively gave free rein to Polish courts to ignore future CJEU rulings.
The decision not only demonstrates the Polish government’s contempt for the EU’s highest court and EU law but seeks to undermine the EU’s legal framework. Polish judges deemed by the executive to be a threat, such as those who seek to apply EU law, face greater risk of disciplinary and criminal proceedings.
Also on July 14, the CJEU ordered the temporary suspension of the Polish Supreme Court’s disciplinary body, ruling that the chamber cannot be considered an impartial and independent judicial body as defined under EU law. The disciplinary chamber is composed of ruling party loyalists whose goal is to strip immunity from judges critical of the government and bring disciplinary and criminal proceedings against them.
The rejection of the EU court’s ruling by Poland’s flawed Constitutional Tribunal is the latest example of the government’s misuse of courts to further its own political agenda. Previous examples include bypassing opposition in the country’s parliament to all but ban abortion and force Poland’s independent ombudsman from office.
These worrying developments have triggered the European Commission to launch multiple legal enforcement actions against Poland. One on July 15 was prompted by dozens of regions and municipalities in Poland establishing so-called “LGBT-ideology free zones.”
With the July 14 Constitutional Tribunal ruling, the Polish government is signaling to both domestic and Brussels audiences that it will ignore future EU court rulings which might stem from these enforcement actions. This is not something EU institutions can stay silent on.
The European Commission should take immediate action to protect the independence of courts and judges in Poland. EU member states should rapidly step up their action under article 7, the mechanism provided by the EU treaty to address member states that put EU democratic principles at risk, to hold Warsaw to account and put a halt to the harm done to Polish citizens’ fundamental rights, the rule of law and EU shared values in Poland.