Poland’s top court postpones a decision on the constitutionality of EU law

Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal on Tuesday postponed issuing a ruling on whether EU law has precedence over the Polish constitution in a case that has worsened already strained relations between Warsaw and Brussels.

The hearing was delayed until September 22., marking the fourth time it has been postponed.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki filed the case in March, setting off a conflict with the European Commission which insists on the supremacy of EU law over national constitutions. But the right-wing government in Warsaw says it needs a final confirmation from the tribunal to establish if the EU’s courts have the right to dictate, for example, how national judges are appointed.

This makes the issue part of the long-running battle between the EU and Poland over the government’s radical justice system reforms, which critics say aim to bring the courts under tighter political control.

Julia Przyłębska, the president of the tribunal, said she needed to adjourn the hearing as a result of a procedural motion filed on behalf of the Polish ombudsman, Marcin Wiącek, who requested that one of the tribunals’ judges be dismissed from hearing the case.

The tribunal is widely seen as being under the control of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, and there have been questions raised over whether three of its justices have been properly appointed.

Przyłębska, a close ally of Jarosław Kaczyński, head of PiS and Poland’s most powerful politician, demanded that participants in the hearing treat the tribunal “with full respect” and file procedural motions before (rather than during) hearings.

In June, European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders asked the Polish government to withdraw the motion from the tribunal — but Warsaw refused. 

European Commission Vice President Vera Jourová, who is overseeing the rule of law portfolio and currently on a trip to Poland, said on Monday she was “very concerned with the developments.”

“I recalled that the EU is a community of law based on mutual trust. This is why the rulings of the European Court of Justice must be fully respected,” she tweeted after a meeting with Morawiecki.

Jourová stressed the Polish issue is more serious than tensions over national and EU law that have sprung up in other member countries because the question to the tribunal was filed by the government itself. 

The Commission launched a legal proceeding against Germany in June over a national constitutional court ruling questioning the powers of the Court of the Justice of the EU. Brussels feared the German ruling would open the door to challenges from countries like Poland and Hungary, which have been accused by EU institutions of backsliding on the bloc’s democratic values.

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