The Rule of Law Crisis: EU’s response to Poland’s violation of the rule of law

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Since its formation, one of the main aims of the European Union is to preserve unity among its member states and strengthen their cooperation. Lately, this task has become increasingly difficult with some of the members acting according to their own rules, violating the essential principles of the EU. It seems even more challenging for the European authorities to ensure order in the Union. For several years now, Poland counts among the countries that are currently in dispute with EU institutions. It appears that the conservative Polish government and its ruling pose a threat to the integrity of the EU. Additionally, they seem to be trying to gain more sovereignty and control over Poland’s position within the Union. The EU attempts to restore order, punish Poland, and urge it to obey the EU law, as it is obliged to do so as a member state. However, the fight seems to be complicated and tedious with the prolonged legal process and the necessity of involvement of all the EU member states in decision-making. 

Rule of law violation 

The rule of law represents one of the fundamental values of the European Union and is stated in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union. It is also important for the “functioning of the EU as a whole, for example, with regard to the Internal Market; cooperation in the area of Justice and Home Affairs.” The European Commission, together with other institutions and the member states, supervises and guarantees the observance of EU law, values, and principles.[1]

In Poland, the rule of law crisis developed after the victory of the conservative-nationalist party Law and Justice (PiS) in the 2015 parliamentary election. According to Vock, the goal of the party was to put an end to persisting communist influence on the judiciary. With the majority in the government, PiS succeeded in enacting several reforms, including changes in the Polish judiciary system. The party appointed five new judges into the Constitutional Tribunal, which decides on the constitutionality of laws, and consequently, assured its control over the court. After the judiciary reforms, the independence of the Constitutional Tribunal has been questioned.[2] “Polish law allows to subject ordinary court judges to disciplinary investigations, procedures and ultimately sanctions, on account of the content of their judicial decisions.”[3] PiS started to tilt other Polish courts to its side which graduated with the foundation of the Disciplinary Chamber as a body of the Supreme Court. The Chamber’s task is “to sanction judges, including for the content of their rulings. It can impose penalties ranging from pay cuts to dismissal.” [4] The independence of the judiciary is embedded in the rule of law, and therefore it is considered to be a violation of EU core values. 

The EU’s response

The alarming changes in the judiciary system in Poland led the European Union to take action. As Poland was failing in fulfilling its obligations towards the EU, the European Commission opened a dialogue with the Polish government in January 2016 under the Rule of Law Framework. Since there was no progress in the situation and with the pressure of some of the MEPs, the Commission activated the Article 7 of Treaty on EU in December 2017 which could suspend some of the EU rights from Poland.[5] However, in order to take such measures, unanimity of all member countries is required, being likely to present an obstacle. 

In October, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal announced that some regulations and their interpretation through the European Court of Justice (ECJ) are not in compliance with the Polish constitution, and therefore, are not legally binding for Poland. With this, the Polish government challenged the supremacy of EU law and values.[6] The statement was seriously condemned by the European Parliament with the urge on the Commission to defend the Union. The Parliament stressed that Polish Constitutional Tribunal had converted “into a tool for legalizing the illegal activities of the authorities”.[7] Recently, the ECJ ruled that “the ability of the Polish government to appoint and remove judges from trials is in violation of EU law.”[8]

The Union accuses PiS of politically interfering in the judicial system and violating EU law. The European Commission endeavors to discipline Poland by withholding the EU coronavirus recovery plan, including €36 billion in grants as the Polish investment proposal has not yet been approved.[9] The EU efforts to stop Poland’s behavior were also supported by the new “rule of law” mechanism that could detain funds from member states that do not comply with their commitments towards the EU. Subsequently, Poland and Hungary appealed to the ECJ which is bound to review the subject first.[10] In October, the ECJ ordered Poland a daily fine of one million euros for not fulfilling the EU obligations.[11] Polish prime minister Morawiecki criticized the use of financial blackmail and the threats of sanctions, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.[12] The dispute between EU institutions and the Polish government continues and the results of the battle appear to remain unclear. 

The seemingly controlled Polish judiciary by the conservative government is also reflected in the everyday life of Polish citizens. According to the European Parliament, the recent strict abortion laws in Poland could be considered an example of the “political takeover of the judiciary and the systemic collapse of the rule of law.”[13]


Amid the pandemic, the European Union is being forced to handle another problem concerning its unity. Poland, an EU member state, is violating the rule of law and the core values of the EU which upsets the rest of the members and dismantles the European cohesion. The Polish government ruled by the Law and Justice Party fills EU institutions with indignations by their desire for more freedom and sovereignty within the EU. The controversial judiciary reforms that undermine the independence of the judiciary and interfere with the EU law, and the Constitutional Tribunal’s recent condemnation of EU supremacy, are some of the main reasons that make the EU uneasy about Poland. European institutions threaten Poland with sanctions, financial holding, and other possible disadvantages in order to stop the violations. Nevertheless, the means appear to be not yet sufficient enough to prevent the Polish government to revoke its efforts. The political power over the Polish judiciary might not be dangerous only for the EU, but also for the citizens of Poland who face newly adopted laws, such as the strict law on abortion. The future of this dispute remains uncertain. However, the EU should probably enforce more efficient measures to prevent other violations that could threaten its future unity. The question arises whether it is the EU’s insufficient means or lack of determination that the progressive results are still absent. 


[1]“Rule Of Law: European Commission Launches Infringement Procedure To Protect Judges In Poland From Political Control,” European Commission, Press Release, April 3, 2019.

[2] Ido Vock, “Dispatch: Poland Is No Longer A Democracy, Claim Rule Of Law Activists,” The New Statesman, November 5, 2021,

[3] „Rule Of Law“, European Commission.

[4] Vock, “Dispatch: Poland No Longer a Democracy.”

[5] „Rule Of Law“, European Commission.

[6] Benedikt Gremminger, “Rule Of Law Crisis In Poland – What Comes Next?” The New Federalist, November 28, 2021,

[7]“Poland: Constitutional Tribunal Is Illegitimate, Unfit To Interpret Constitution,” European Parliament, Press Release, October 21, 2021.

[8] “EU’s top court says Polish rules on appointing judges violate EU law,” DW, November, 16, 2021.

[9] Piotr Skolimowski, “Poland, Hungary Likely to Miss EU Recovery Funds in 2021,” Bloomberg, December 7, 2021,

[10] “European Court Of Justice Likely To Dismiss Poland, Hungary ‘Rule-Of-Law’ Challenge,” DW, December 2, 2021.

[11] Gremminger, „Rule Of Law Crisis.“

[12] “Europe’s Week: Poland In Spotlight Over EU Rule Of Law,” Euronews, Updated October 25, 2021,

[13] “Poland: No More Women Should Die Because Of The Restrictive Law On Abortion,” European Parliament, Press Release, November 11, 2021,

Works Cited:

  1. DW. “European Court Of Justice Likely To Dismiss Poland, Hungary ‘Rule-Of-Law’ Challenge.” December 2, 2021.
  2. DW. “EU’s top court says Polish rules on appointing judges violate EU law.” November, 16, 2021.
  3. Euronews. “Europe’s Week: Poland In Spotlight Over EU Rule Of Law.” Updated October 25, 2021.
  4. European Commission. “Rule Of Law: European Commission Launches Infringement Procedure To Protect Judges In Poland From Political Control.” Press Release. April 3, 2019.      
  5. European Parliament. “Poland: Constitutional Tribunal Is Illegitimate, Unfit To Interpret Constitution.” Press Release. October 21, 2021.
  6. European Parliament. “Poland: No More Women Should Die Because Of The Restrictive Law On Abortion.” Press Release. November 11, 2021.
  7. Gremminger, Benedikt. “Rule Of Law Crisis In Poland – What Comes Next?” The New Federalist, November 28, 2021.  
  8. Skolimowski, Piotr. “Poland, Hungary Likely to Miss EU Recovery Funds in 2021.” Bloomberg, December 7, 2021.
  9. Vock, Ido. “Dispatch: Poland Is No Longer A Democracy, Claim Rule Of Law Activists.” The New Statesman, November 5, 2021.