EU takes Poland to court amid fears for bloc’s legal order

Ursula von der Leyen in European elections; EU
Ursula von der Leyen

The European Union has launched legal action against Poland over recent decisions by one of the country’s top courts that have raised troubling questions about the 27-nation bloc’s legal order.

In October, Poland’s constitutional court ruled that Polish laws have supremacy over those of the EU in areas where they conflict. When countries join the EU, as Poland did in 2004, they must bring their laws into line with the bloc’s regulations. The European Court of Justice is supreme arbiter of those rules.

In launching its legal action, the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, said that it sees two constitutional tribunal decisions this year as “expressly challenging the primacy of EU law”. The commission also raised doubts about the court’s legitimacy.

Announcing the move, Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said that the rulings “are in breach of the general principles of autonomy, primacy, effectiveness and uniform application of Union law and the binding effect of rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union.”

Mr Gentiloni said the commission, which proposes EU laws and supervises the way they are applied, considers that the Polish court “no longer meets the requirements of an independent and impartial tribunal established by law as required by the (EU) treaty”.

“The European Union is a community of values and of law and the rights of Europeans under the treaties must be protected, no matter where they live in the union,” he told reporters.

The first step of the legal action involves the commission sending a “letter of formal notice” requesting a reaction and information from Poland. The country’s rightwing government is required to reply in detail within two months.

Countries that fail to comply with EU court rulings can face hefty fines and possibly a loss of voting rights.

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