EU court: Polish system for disciplining judges violates bloc's laws

The EU's top court ruled on Thursday that Poland's system for disciplining judges undercuts the bloc's laws, news wires reported. The ruling is a part of an escalating battle over democratic rules that risks Warsaw losing some of its key development funding.

In a sweeping overhaul of the judiciary already condemned by the EU Commission, Polish authorities set up a disciplinary chamber at the Supreme Court. But the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the chamber "does not provide all the guarantees of impartiality and independence, and, in particular, is not protected from the direct or indirect influence of the Polish legislature and executive".

The court had already told Warsaw to immediately stop all proceedings at the disciplinary chamber but Poland's top court said on Wednesday the demand ran counter to its constitution and the country should not comply. The Polish ruling challenged the primacy of European laws over national ones, drawing warnings that the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is edging away from the EU.

"It's not Poland but Kaczynski and his party that are leaving the EU," Donald Tusk, the head of Poland's main opposition party, a former chairman of the EU Council and the arch-foe of PiS head Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said of the Polish ruling.

However, Warsaw's refusal to comply with the ECJ does not mean it must now follow in Britain's footsteps and trigger the formal EU divorce procedure. But it is undergoing a de-facto "legal Polexit of the judiciary", an EU official said, moving itself further away from the bloc.

The row may lead to the ECJ imposing hefty fines on Warsaw or the other EU countries suspending financing. Poland is due to get some 770 billion zlotys ($200 bln) from the bloc by 2028; its nominal GDP was 2.3 trillion zlotys ($595 bln) in 2020.

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