In Brussels today, they look at Warsaw with fear and trembling. There, the Constitutional Court makes a ruling that can put the already tense relationships even more sharpened. At the request of the Polish Prime Minister, the Court examine the question of what is more weighing: Polish or European law?
And that is controversial, because the answer to them is clear in principle: the European treaties state that judgments by the European Court in Luxembourg are binding and therefore have priority.
Why are the Poles fighting this principle? They want to end the Brussels interference and the ‘annoying states’ of the European Court in Luxembourg. That has already been tapping on Poland several times because of reforms that jeopardize independent justice. According to the Secretary of Justice, Sebastian Kaleta, Brussels has nothing to say about that. “Some politicians in Brussels want to make their role bigger than he is. That‘s dangerous,” says Kaleta.
The brisant case was already on the role, but disappeared several times without giving reason to the agenda. In Warsaw, too, they are well aware that it can do a lot of things.
Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders has urged Morawiecki to withdraw the case because of the possible far-reaching implication of the judgment. The priority rule is a fundamental principle of European law, says Reynders, you shouldn’t want to morulate that.
From Poland, an intidy reply to that request immediately came. “This is another typical example of that annoying, colonial attitude towards Warsaw,” Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro sliced.
A group of judges in Poland is worried and wondering what this confrontation will lead to. “They are actually outside the European Union. It‘s a first step to a Polexit. And that cannot be what the Poles want,” says Pawel Juszczyszyn.
Juszczyszyn was a judge in the city of Olsztyn for twenty years, but he was recently expelled for criticism of the reforms. He will be touring the country with other judges this summer to draw attention to the situation. “It’s a political coup against the judiciary, I dare say it.”
There are many concerned citizens and activists at the meetings, but also Poland who are not so worried. “Society will not allow the rule of law to disappear. The powers can make changes, but the base values remain standing,” says Ryszard Lautenbach.
He also lived under communism in Poland and “can‘t be scared so fast,” he laughs. The young visitors feel more urgency. “The rulers pretend that the Constitution doesn’t exist. Judges are suspended if they stand independently. It‘s very painful to see this happening in my country. I was born as a citizen of the European Union and want to live in a rule of law, in a democracy,” says Anna Prokop.
If a ruling comes today, chances are that it will benefit the Polish government. The Polish Constitutional Court is one of the first legal institutions to be handled by the PiS Government Party and now consists largely of judges on the side of PiS. The judge dealing with this case is also known as anti-European.
It’s going to be an eventful week in this area anyway. On Thursday, the European Court will rule on the legitimacy of the Polish Supreme Court‘s Disciplinary Chamber. In an interim ruling, Luxembourg ruled that the Disciplinary Chamber had to shut down its work immediately because the independence of the judges could not be guaranteed. Poland has not responded to this statement so far.
By the way, Poland is not the only country that has to deal with Brussels because of the priority issue. The German Constitutional Court also received a position recently because, with its criticism of the European Central Bank’s debt buying programme, it would not recognise the primacy of EU law over national law and thus “inspire” other countries not to do so either.
And that‘s happening too. Poland calls the German Court’s judgment a “proof that the Polish Government is right in the dispute over Polish judiciary reform”.