EC takes Poland to EU court over change of telecoms regulator

The European Commission has decided to turn to the European Court of Justice (CJEU) over a dispute with Poland for "undermining the independence of the national telecoms regulator."

The EC highlighted the fact that in May, 2020, the Polish government changed in an urgent procedure the provisions of its telecommunications law concerning the appointment and dismissal of the president of the national regulatory authority (NRA), the Office of Electronic Communications (UKE).

On the basis of the new rules, the UKE's then president, Marcin Cichy, whose term of office was to expire in September 2021, was dismissed.

"According to EU law, i.e. the then applicable Framework Directive, recently reinforced by the European Electronic Communications Code, heads of national regulatory authorities may be dismissed only if they no longer fulfil the conditions required for the performance of their duties which are laid down in advance in national law. These rules aim to remove any doubt as to the neutrality of that body and its imperviousness to external factors," The EC wrote in February 2021 in a reasoned opinion sent to Poland.

"The Head of the NRA was dismissed as a result of changes to the rules on the appointment and dismissal of NRA Heads, which the Polish government applied retroactively to the ongoing mandate of the NRA President. Hence, Mr. Cichy's mandate was terminated because the selection procedure did not comply with requirements introduced many years after he took office," the reasoned opinion continued.

The EC said the independence of national regulatory authorities is a key EU principle in the field of telecommunications law, the aim of which is to guarantee that the regulator takes objective decisions and acts impartially both regarding enterprises covered by its regulations and in the face of political pressure.

The decision to take Poland to the CJEU over the matter was taken as a result of exchanges of opinion between the EC and the Polish government, the Commission explained.

The EC called on Poland in July, 2020, to remedy the infringement, going on to send the reasoned opinion in February 2021 after receiving a response from Warsaw. The Polish government also responded to this reasoned opinion, however, despite the exchange of opinions, no resolution was reached.

The Commission considered the Polish government's clarification unsatisfactory and not in line with the Electronic Communications Code, which was supposed to be implemented through legislative changes in May, 2020.