Justice minister asks Poland’s top court to rule on EU rule

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s justice minister on Thursday asked his nation’s constitutional court to rule on whether a new European Union rule linking funding to respect for rule of law is in line with the Polish constitution.

Zbigniew Ziobro told a news conference that he was convinced the new rule was “totally incompatible with Poland’s constitution.”

It is the latest move in an ongoing conflict pitting Poland’s nationalist government against the European Commission, whose role is to enforce the rules and values of the 27-member union.

Poland’s government has been taking steps since 2015 to impose greater control over the country’s courts. The EU says the changes amount to an erosion of judicial independence, therefore undermining the democratic values of the union.

The conflict is becoming costly for Poland, with millions of euros in pandemic relief funds being withheld over rule of law violations.

Meanwhile, the EU top court is reviewing the new rule that will allow funds to be withheld over democratic backsliding. The EU court is due to rule on the rule of law mechanism next year.

Ziobro’s step comes a day after the EU Commission launched legal action against Poland over recent decisions by the constitutional court which have raised questions about the bloc’s legal order. In October, for instance, Poland’s constitutional court ruled that Polish laws have supremacy over those of the EU in areas where they conflict. When countries join the EU, as Poland did in 2004, they must bring their laws into line with the bloc’s regulations. The European Court of Justice is the supreme arbiter of those rules.

The commission also raised doubts about the court’s legitimacy.

John Morijn, a law professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, said Ziobro’s move will be of “no consequence” under EU law, particularly since the Commission on Wednesday “made part of its complaint the point that in its view the Polish Constitutional Tribunal is not legally a court, so what will come out will not be a judgment.”

He said it appeared to be above all a political move showing the EU that Warsaw is “unimpressed by their pressure,” but one which also will make it harder for Poland and the Commission to solve their conflict through dialogue.

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