EC head says Poland must comply with EU court rulings

Von der Leyen said after a two-day EU summit in Brussels on Friday that judicial independence was a fundamental pillar of the rule of law. Olivier Hoslet/PAP/EPA

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission (EC) president, has said that Poland must restore the independence of its justice system, scrap a disciplinary regime for judges and reinstate suspended judges.

In a July ruling, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ordered Poland to shut down a disciplinary panel at the Supreme Court, saying that it lacked independence and could be used by the government to silence defiant judges, but Poland has failed to comply, so far.

Von der Leyen said after a two-day EU summit in Brussels on Friday that judicial independence was a fundamental pillar of the rule of law.

She said there was a long way to go to restore the rule of law in Poland, and that involved dialogue, a legal response and tangible measures to be taken by the EU.

The EC president said Poland must bring back an independent justice system, shut down the disciplinary panel for judges at the Supreme Court and allow suspended judges to return to work.

However, von der Leyen said the EC will not launch a new conditionality mechanism, through which Brussels can block disbursement of EU funds to a member state that does not comply with EU rules, before a relevant CJEU verdict is announced.

Despite agreeing to the new mechanism in late 2020, Poland and Hungary contested the legality of it before the EU's top court, and the case is still pending.

Emmanuel Macron, the French President, said after the summit that Europe was waiting for "concrete gestures" from Poland in the rule of law dispute.

The EU has accused Law and Justice, Poland's ruling party, of politicising the justice system, but the country's conservative government maintains its overhaul of the judiciary is merely a way of re-organising the system in Poland.

Earlier this month, Poland's Constitutional Tribunal issued a ruling that challenged the supremacy of EU law, increasing tensions between Warsaw and Brussels. The ruling led to calls that EU funding should be withheld from Poland until it reverses changes to the judicial system that some claim undermine the rule of law.