"Outside of competence": Court: EU law breaks Poland’s constitution

In Poland’s long-running dispute with the EU, the country’s highest court is now taking the side of the controversial Polish government. Parts of EU law, ruled the Constitutional Court, are incompatible with the Polish constitution.

According to a ruling by the Polish Constitutional Court, parts of EU law are incompatible with the Polish constitution. “The attempt by the European Court of Justice to interfere in the Polish judicial system violates (…) the rule of primacy of the constitution and the rule that sovereignty is preserved in the process of European integration,” the judges judged. The decision could further fuel the dispute between Warsaw and Brussels over the reform of the Polish judicial system.

Specifically, the procedure concerned whether provisions from the EU treaties, with which the EU Commission justifies its right to have a say in questions of the rule of law, are compatible with the Polish constitution. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had asked the Polish Constitutional Court to review a judgment of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) of March 2, 2021. In the ruling, the top EU judges found that EU law can force member states to disregard individual provisions in national law, even if it is constitutional law.

According to the ECJ, the procedure for filling the Supreme Court in Poland could violate EU law. This would mean that the ECJ could force Poland to repeal parts of the controversial judicial reform of the national-conservative PiS government. Because of the reforms, the EU Commission has already opened several infringement proceedings against the government in Warsaw and has filed lawsuits with the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Among other things, the Brussels authority also has doubts about the independence of the Polish Constitutional Court, which has now determined that national law takes precedence over EU law. The chair is Julia Przylebska, a close confidante of PiS boss Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

“The institutions of the EU act outside the limits of the competence that Poland gives them,” said Przylebska when delivering the verdict. Government representatives have argued similarly in the past when it came to not following ECJ decisions.

Poland’s government also came in handy for a ruling by the German Federal Constitutional Court, which it interprets in its favor. In May 2020, the Karlsruhe judges objected to the European Central Bank’s bond purchases worth billions – and thus opposed a CJEU ruling for the first time. However, the Federal Constitutional Court has never questioned the fundamental primacy of EU law. Karlsruhe only reserves the right to carry out the final inspection in certain, very rare cases.