Poland Gets Brash as Top EU Court Starts Weighing Justice Revamp

(Bloomberg) -- Poland’s government showed its brash attitude toward the European Union, saying it was ready to defy a fundamental principle and ignore a decision of the European Court of Justice if it rules against a sweeping revamp of the justice system.

Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin signaled on Monday that Poland may no longer respect the decisions of the top EU tribunal, which is deliberating two cases regarding the legality of its judicial overhauls. Hours later, Premier Mateusz Morawiecki downplayed the importance of the court, whose rulings he said weren’t being implemented by other EU nations, while saying that an agreement will likely be found between the sides.

Poland Gets Brash as Top EU Court Starts Weighing Justice Revamp

The standoff, part of the European mainstream’s struggle with populists who raise alarm over the erosion of the rule of law, may trigger unprecedented sanctions or lead to cuts in funding for Poland. The government in Warsaw openly flaunting a binding court decision would represent a further escalation and may force EU authorities to decide more quickly whether to discipline an unruly member and what measures to use.

“EU procedures are slow, but they’ve finally led to action and provoked nervous comments,” Batrlomiej Przymusinski, a spokesman for the Polish judges’ association Iustitia, said via text message. If Poland defies a court ruling, “we may end up in legal chaos.”

‘Last Judgement’

Asked whether Poland would respect the EU court’s verdict, Morawiecki told Polsat News that he doesn’t expect any “issues” as a ruling may be avoided or be positive for the government. Otherwise, Poland would seek an “accord with EU bodies when the ruling won’t be fully satisfactory” Morawiecki said.

“This isn’t the court of the last judgment, it’s an European court,” the prime minister said about the EU’s highest tribunal. There are 52 pending cases about the implementation of the European Court of Justice’s rulings across the bloc, and “nobody there is making a big deal about it, unlike the clamor the opposition is trying to drum up here,” he said.

Poland has been following Hungary self-styled ‘illiberal’ Prime Minister Viktor Orban in challenging the EU standards and repeatedly outmaneuvering the bloc in overhauls that subjugate courts to politicians. The latest move is similar to Budapest’s push this month signaling it may need a legal umbrella to defend against EU interference in domestic affairs.

While the ruling party argues that courts need to be overhauled to give regular Poles a sense of justice, the European Commission sees its measures as undermining judicial independence and eliminating the checks necessary for a properly functioning democracy.

Court Challenge

The Supreme Court this month challenged the government by suspending new regulations that would force out as many as two-fifths of its justices, including First President Malgorzata Gersforf, pending review by the ECJ. Gowin repeated the government’s view that those actions are groundless.

If the EU panel backs the Polish Supreme Court, it would be “fuel for euroskeptics throughout the bloc as it would question the fundamental right of sovereignty of nation states,” Gowin said, according to the pro-government weekly Do Rzeczy.

The deputy premier’s comment shows that rule of law in Poland is “out of control” as the ruling party violates the constitution and ignores court rulings it doesn’t agree with, Laurent Pech, a professor of European law at Middlesex University in London, said on Twitter.

“As a citizen, I’m watching this with a growing concern and outrage as I’m not convinced that a majority of Poles want to leave the EU ” Judge Michal Laskowski, the Supreme Court’s spokesman, told TVN24 Monday. “These are signals that Poland is nearing an exit from EU.”

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