Extremely serious EUs top court chief issues ominous warning on ‘survival’ of bloc
ECJ 'cannot ensure' Poland will use EU funds lawfully says expert
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European Court of Justice (ECJ) President Koen Lenaerts warned the “survival” of the EU project is being threatened by politicians and judges in different member states.
Mr Lenaerts said the situation is now “extremely serious” when it comes to EU law supremacy in the bloc and the role of the rule of law.
Speaking to Politico, he said: “The authority of the Court of Justice and the primacy of EU law have been challenged in various member states, not only by politicians, but also by certain constitutional courts.
“This is an extremely serious situation that threatens the survival of the European project in its current form.”
He continued: “It always sounds impressive to speak about primacy and some member states will criticise that principle.
“But that is actually all hollow rhetoric.
“The only question is whether or not the union has the competence.”
Echoing French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent branding of the rule of law dispute with Poland as “a problem of independence of the justice system”, the ECJ chief said: “Of course, it is a competence of each member state to organise its own judiciary as it sees fit.
“But member states must not undermine, in the eyes of the public, the independence and impartiality of the judges.”
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He continued: “It is our duty to say: We are all bound by these same basic values laid down in Article Two [of the Treaty on European Union, which includes the rule of law and respect for human rights].
“So that is not a power-grab.
“It is merely safeguarding the foundation on which the Treaty, the agreement between the member states, rests.”
The bloc accuses Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) of political meddling in the judicial system in violation of EU law and says it must scrap a disciplinary system for judges that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has already struck down.
Warsaw says its shake-up of the judiciary is needed to increase efficiency and rid it of communist-era vestiges.
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That row is part of a much wider clash over democratic standards that also includes women’s rights and media freedoms.
Despite these disputes, PiS retains solid backing in Poland where it has boosted welfare spending since coming to power in 2015. Its nationalist, eurosceptic rhetoric goes down well with working and lower middle class Poles outside the big cities.
It remains unclear when and how Warsaw might change its Disciplinary Chamber at Poland’s Supreme Court in a way that would satisfy the executive European Commission in Brussels and allow for disbursement of the Covid recovery funds.
As well as the Covid recovery funds, Poland also risks losing money earmarked for it under the EU’s 2021-27 shared 1.1 trillion euro budget.
For now, a senior member of the EU’s executive said last week that Poland would not receive the grants and cheap loans now rolling into most other EU countries to help them recover from the pandemic, unless it changed tack.
EU Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “It is unlikely that we can finalise this work (on approving Poland’s national recovery plan and disbursing the funds) this year.”
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