Poland”s top court is on Tuesday expected to rule on whether Polish or Europan Union law has primacy as part of a long-standing dispute between Brussels and Warsaw over EU values.
Proceedings at the Constitutional Tribunal were started in July but have been postponed multiple times.
The latest delay, on August 31, came after Poland’s Human Rights Ombudsman demanded one of the judges be removed because of his close links to the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.
The ruling is seen as critical to the country’s future relationship with the rest of the bloc.
Poland’s prime minister had asked the court — dominated by ruling party loyalists — to make the judgment amid a larger conflict over systematic changes to the court system in Poland, which the EU views as a violation of democratic norms.
If the court rules against the Polish government, the EU Court of Justice will be able to force the country to suspend part of its judicial reforms. The opposite will mean Poland can either amend its Constitution, seek to amend EU law or even withdraw from the bloc.
Poland has accused the EU of interfering in its domestic affairs and of blackmail with the legal battle between them over Poland’s judiciary reforms stoking fears of a “Polexit” and prompting PiS to stress that the country’s future is in the bloc.
“There will be no Polexit, it is a propaganda invention that has been used many times against us,” PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski told the PAP news agency last week. He added however that Poland wishes to remain a “sovereign” country.
Last month, Warsaw announced it would bring changes to its disciplinary chamber for judges after the European Court of Justice (CJEU) found that it undermines judicial independence and contravenes EU law and that failure to amend the legislation would leave Poland open to financial penalties. The government said it would unveil its changes in September.
The CJEU ruling had come after Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that an earlier CJEU injunction to suspend the Chamber’s activities was not valid, arguing Polish law has primacy.
Last week, the Commission asked the CJEU to impose daily fines on the country, arguing it has failed to abide by the Court’s interim measures issued on July 14 over the disciplinary chamber.
Brussels has struggled to contain what it sees as a backslide on the rule of law in several eastern European member states including Poland and Hungary.
It has introduced a conditionality mechanism that allows the Commission to suspend, reduce or restrict access to EU funds for member states found to have breached the bloc’s rule of law values but has not yet used it.