Brussels has triggered legal action against Warsaw after Polish constitutional judges challenged the primacy of EU law, which could mean Warsaw facing huge fines in the European Court of Justice.
October’s ruling by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal threw Poland’s future in the European Union into doubt, with critics branding it a step towards a “legal Polexit”. EU membership remains supported by most Poles.
On Wednesday, Brussels said it had “serious concerns with respect to the Polish Constitutional Tribunal and its recent case law” and questioned its independence.
The European Commission had previously warned it would use “all its powers” to protect the principle that EU law supersedes national law, which is a foundation of the bloc’s legal order.
The commission also continues to withhold paying out £48 billion of coronavirus recovery funds to Poland because of the row over the rule of law
“The commission considers the rulings […] breached the general principles of autonomy, primacy, effectiveness and uniform application of Union law and the binding effect of rulings of the Court of Justice,” the EU executive said.
“The commission also considers that the Constitutional Tribunal no longer meets the requirements of an independent and impartial tribunal established by law, as required by the Treaty.”
Critics of the ruling Law and Justice party have accused the government of stuffing the court with its political allies.
Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland’s prime minister, has warned the EU will collapse if it continues to blackmail Warsaw.
He claims Poland remains a "loyal member" of the EU but warns that the bloc is turning into an anti-democratic federal superstate that trampled over national sovereignty.
Warsaw now has two months to respond to the legal action, which could ultimately see it hit with fines, including large daily sums, until it comes back into line with EU law.
Brussels delayed the lawsuit, which begins a slow process designed to give Warsaw multiple chances to back down rather than face EU judges, until after the crisis on the Polish border with Belarus.
The commission did not want to undermine protestations of EU unity, while weaponised migrants exploited by dictator Alexander Lukashenko massed at the border.