EC triggers infringement procedure against Poland

Darek Delmanowicz/PAP

The European Commission on Wednesday decided to trigger an EU law infringement procedure against Poland in connection with recent rulings by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal which questioned the primacy of EU over national law.

In its rulings of July 14, 2021 and October 7, 2021, the court ruled that the provisions of the EU Treaties were incompatible with the Polish Constitution, expressly challenging the primacy of EU law, a fundamental tenet of EU membership. Poland has two months to reply to the letter of formal notice.

In a commentary to the decision, EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said in Brussels that the rulings violate Article 19 Point 1 of the EU Treaty and deprive persons appearing before Polish courts of the rights contained therein.

Gentiloni added that according to the Commission, the Constitutional Tribunal does not meet the judicial independence and impartiality criteria set down in the EU Treaty.

Gentiloni stressed that the EU was a "community of values and laws," and said the rights of Europeans had to be protected throughout the EU.

The EC's move continues a rule-of-law dispute between the EU and Poland begun with the 2017 activation of the EU Treaty's sanctioning Article 7 against Warsaw.

Commenting on the EC's decision, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he does not agree with the Commission's objections.

Morawiecki especially questioned the Commission's reservations about the constitutional court's independence, and said it met all required standards in this respect.

"I deeply disagree with the main claim in the Commission's decision, namely that the Constitutional Tribunal supposedly fails to meet these or other standards. Of course it (the Tribunal - PAP) not only fulfils all independence criteria, but it is a Constitutional Tribunal that stands guard of the constitution and ensures that it remains the highest law of the Republic of Poland," Morawiecki said.

Poland's justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, lashed out at the EC's decision at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, calling EU officials "petty bureaucrats".

"Undoubtedly, the (EC's) project, the goal and the directives are designed to incapacitate the Polish state, to incapacitate Polish democracy, to deprive Poles of self-determination and of their sovereign election of their own authorities in the form of parliament, government and the third power, i.e. courts, including the Constitutional Tribunal," Ziobro said.

"The petty bureaucrats from Brussels simply didn't like the verdict of Poland's independent Constitutional Tribunal," the minister said, likening the EC to Soviet authorities of the past.

Piotr Mueller, the government spokesperson, told PAP that in launching the infringement procedure the EC had overstepped its "literally expressed" competencies.

"The EU treaties are very clear on the EU's activity scope. EU bodies cannot operate outside of their literally expressed competencies," Mueller said.

Sebastian Kaleta, a deputy justice minister, called the EC's decision "an attack on the Polish constitution and the country’s sovereignty."