The European Commission could this week ask the bloc’s highest court to rule on the legality of a controversial judicial law introduced by the Polish government, according to two Commission officials.
Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans, who has taken the lead in pursing the rule-of-law case against Poland, will likely ask his fellow commissioners at their weekly meeting on Wednesday to allow the European Court of Justice to rule on a Polish law affecting the country’s Supreme Court. The issue is on the agenda, the Commission officials confirmed.
The law imposes a lower retirement age, removing many of the court’s judges including its president. Critics say the law violates the Polish constitution.
The Polish government argues that the changes are needed to root out judges tied to the old communist system and to make the courts more efficient, and that Brussels doesn’t have the right to interfere in the legal systems of member countries.
In July, the Commission launched an infringement procedure against Poland over the law, which took effect on July 3. A Polish government official said Warsaw had responded to the Commission’s requests for information. The ECJ can impose “financial penalties on the Member State concerned based on the duration and severity on the infringement and the size of the Member State.”
The Polish Supreme Court has also asked the European Court of Justice to rule on the new law. However, in this case the ECJ can only deliver an opinion, and not a binding ruling.
Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Gowin told Polish media his country “will probably have no choice” but to ignore the ECJ if it decides to suspend the judicial law.
Last December, the Commission for the first time initiated so-called Article 7 proceedings against Poland, beginning a process that theoretically could lead to Poland losing its voting rights in the Council. In reality, the procedure has virtually no chance of success because Poland’s allies, particularly Hungary, have pledged to block it.
On Tuesday, EU affairs ministers met in Brussels at the General Affairs Council, at which Poland’s EU affairs minister, Konrad Szymański, defended his government’s constitutional changes.
In a joint statement, Nathalie Loiseau and Michael Roth, the Europe ministers of France and Germany, said the situation is “more urgent than ever.”
“We hope that Poland will act in a constructive way and won’t take irreversible measures,” the statement said. “A few months away from elections in the European Parliament, it is our responsibility to continue discuss our common values.”