Poland

Top Polish court rejects EU court injunctions as invalid

People gather in front of the Constitutional Tribunal during a hearing in Warsaw, Poland July 13, 2021.
People gather in front of the Constitutional Tribunal during a hearing in Warsaw, Poland July 13, 2021. Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS - SLAWOMIR KAMINSKI

Poland’s constitutional court ruled this week that temporary injunctions issued by the European Union’s top court in respect of Poland’s judiciary, conflict with the nation’s constitution are not binding.

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Legal observers interpreted the decision from Poland's Constitutional Tribunal as a move by Poland's right-wing government to undermine the power of EU laws within the country and even a step away from the 27-nation bloc. Poland joined the EU in 2004, agreeing to abide by its rules and laws. 

“The refusal to implement rulings of the European Court of Justice in Poland is a clear step towards taking Poland out of the European Union," Jeroen Lenaers, a European Parliament member from the Netherlands, said. 

“We fear that the Polish government is on the path to Polexit,” Lenaers said.

The EU Commission said in a statement that it is "deeply concerned" about the "decision of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal, which states that the interim measures ordered by the Court of Justice of the European Union in the area of the functioning of the judiciary, are inconsistent with the Polish Constitution," adding that the action "reaffirms our concerns about the state of the rule of law in Poland."

The Constitutional Tribunal said that even though Poland is an EU member, domestic issues concerning the judiciary and court system remain the sole purview of Polish authorities and legislation. 

"Lawless interference"

Former EU Council head Donald Tusk said on Twitter that “It is not Poland, but (ruling party leader Jaroslaw) Kaczynski that is leaving the EU together with his party.” 

“Only we Poles can effectively oppose that,” said Tusk, Poland's ex-prime minister who recently made a political comeback. 

Departing human rights ombudsman Adam Bodnar said the verdict amounted to telling the top European court that Poland will not apply its rulings. 

But Poland's justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, who is behind the controversial changes to the justice system, praised the ruling saying it defends Poland's constitutional order “against the lawless interference and aggression of the law coming from European bodies.” 

Wednesday ruling was triggered by a 2020 interim decision by the European Court of Justice that ordered the suspension of a new chamber at Poland’s Supreme Court that was set up to discipline judges and prosecutors. 

Political control

Critics view the chamber as a tool for sanctioning those critical of the changes the government has made to the judiciary since winning power in 2015. The government insists the changes are needed to free the justice system of lingering influences of the communist era, but critics say they just put the justice system under political control. 

The changes have put Poland on a collision course with the EU that has triggered sanctioning procedures, and Wednesday's ruling only adds to the conflict. 

The European court issued temporary injunctions suspending the disciplinary chamber while it drafts an opinion on whether the body violates EU law. But some chamber members protested the court's interim decision to the Constitutional Tribunal, which is largely composed of government loyalists. 

Just hours before the ruling in Warsaw, deputy head of the European court emphasized the urgent need for Poland to suspend the disciplinary chamber. 

The Constitutional Tribunal is expected to rule soon on whether EU law takes primacy over Poland’s Constitution. The decision Wednesday was seen as an indication of how the tribunal's judges might rule.

Hungary under attack

Hungary is also under fire from the EU. Earlier this week, the EU initiated legal action against Hungary and Poland to defend LGBTQ+ rights. 

Hungary also faces growing criticism from the EU after it signed an agreement to open a Chinese university campus in Budapest by 2024. 

The deal would make the Shanghai-based Fudan University campus the first Chinese university campus in the European Union.

Critics of the plan say the massive investment places an undue financial burden on Hungarian taxpayers, and that it is indicative of prime minister Viktor Orban's closening ties to autocracies in Moscow and Beijing.

Government documents obtained in April by Hungarian investigative journalism center Direkt36 show that the pre-tax construction costs for the 64-acre campus are estimated at $1.8 billion, more than Hungary spent on its entire higher education system in 2019.

(With agencies)

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