WARSAW – Poland's constitutional court on Tuesday reopened but then recessed its proceedings in a case over whether Polish or European Union law has primacy in the country.
The Constitutional Tribunal said it would take up the question again on Sept. 22. The court's ruling, when it eventually comes, is expected to define the future relationship of the EU member nation with the rest of the bloc.
The court, which is largely made up of judges nominated by Poland’s conservative, nationalist ruling party, agreed to examine the matter at the request of Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
He asked for the review in March after the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that EU law takes precedence over the Polish Constitution. That came amid a larger dispute over changes to the larger Polish court system, initiated by the ruling Law and Justice party, which the EU views as an erosion of democratic checks and balances.
The tribunal's proceedings started in July and then were postponed. The court reopened them Tuesday, but a civic rights official made a motion to exclude a judge who is a government loyalist. The court panel announced a three-week recess while it considers the motion.
Law and Justice has made a number of changes to the operation of Poland’s judiciary since taking power in 2015. It argues reforms were needed to improve the efficiency of the court system and to fight corruption. Critics, however, see the changes as an attempt by the ruling party to gain control in a way that erodes the democratic balance of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
In the spring, retired judges from the court expressed concerns that the procedure could be a step toward Poland’s eventual departure from the EU. On Monday, pro-democracy activists pushed their way onto the grounds of the court to voice their opposition to the court, which they don't consider to be legitimate, in part because the ruling party put three loyalists on the court in an illegal maneuver early in its tenure.
Countries that join the EU are supposed to bring their laws and regulations in line with other member nations in areas ranging from competition and trade to justice affairs and fighting corruption. Poland, a former communist state, joined the bloc in 2004, and the economic growth and travel freedoms that have come with membership have made EU membership very popular.
The Polish government argued in March that the EU court had overstepped its authority by declaring the superiority of European law over the Polish Constitution.
Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said last week that the EU’s criticism amounts to “hybrid warfare” against the Polish legal system.