WARSAW — Poland “will probably have no choice” but to ignore the European Court of Justice if it decides to suspend a new Polish law that forces the early retirement of older Supreme Court judges, according to Deputy Prime Minsiter Jarosław Gowin.
The European Court of Justice on Monday started deliberations on a query from Poland’s Supreme Court, which asked whether a recent Polish law — which imposes a retirement age of 65 on Supreme Court justices and could result in the removal of about 40 percent of its judges — violates EU rules. The Supreme Court suspended the application of the law pending the ECJ’s decision, but the government has refused to accept the Supreme Court’s ruling.
If Europe’s top court backs the Polish Supreme Court’s right to suspend the law, the Polish government “will probably have no choice but to … ignore the ruling of the ECJ as contrary to the Treaty of Lisbon and the whole spirit of European integration,” Gowin said in an interview with pro-government weekly Do Rzeczy published on Monday.
Gowin, who is also the minister for science and higher education, insisted the ECJ was overstepping its mandate, saying: “If the tribunal in Luxembourg considers itself competent to support a position of a small group of Polish judges, it will be fuel for Euroskeptic communities across Europe. This will undermine the fundamental EU idea of the sovereignty of nation states.”
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party is embroiled in a dispute with Brussels over a series of judicial reforms, which it claims are necessary to improve the judicial system’s efficiency and cleanse it of the alleged influence of the old communist regime but which the European Commission has said violate EU laws.
In December, the Commission launched so-called Article 7 proceedings against Poland over the controversial reforms, kickstarting a process that in theory could lead to Poland losing its voting rights in the European Council.
Poland’s National Judiciary Council (KRS), which nominates Supreme Court judges, has sped up procedures to nominate replacements for judges removed under the controversial new rules ahead of the ECJ’s decision. The body nominated 12 new judges last week and is expected to designate several more in the week ahead.
Asked whether Poland’s refusal to obey an ECJ ruling on the functioning of its courts would “look like the first to Polexit,” Gowin did not categorically rule out the possibility Poland could leave the bloc.
A Polish exit would not “be the first step toward” the EU’s “auto-destruction” and “will not be made by Poland’s government but by the Court of Justice of the European Union,” Gowin said.
Commenting on the most contentious part of the new Supreme Court law — which allows for the removal of the court’s first president, Małgorzata Gersdorf, in violation of her constitutionally mandated six-year term — Gowin also said: “There is no first president [of the Court now].”