Polish and German constitutional courts in war of words

The head of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal Julia Przyłębska called recent claims made by her German counterpart “outrageous”.

The head of the German Federal Constitutional Court, Andreas Vosskuhle, has stated that the Polish Constitutional Tribunal is no longer a serious court and has rather become “a marionette”.

The claim stirred up emotions in Poland and was quickly rebutted by the head of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal, Julia Przyłębska, who fired back by saying “the outrageous statement made by the Chief Justice of the German Constitutional Tribunal has no place in a fair public debate. I am embarrassed that a person holding such an important function speaks in such a way”.

The Polish government has been at loggerheads with the European Commission since it came to power in 2016. One of the bones of contention is based in the conflict between the Polish government and the previous government, with both sides accusing the other of packing the Constitutional Tribunal with judges loyal to them.

Another point of friction between Warsaw and Brussels is the disagreement on whether the constitution of a member state stands above verdicts issued by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg.

The Polish standpoint on the issue was strengthened in early May when the German Federal Constitutional Court ruled that the bond-buying programme started in 2015 by the European Central Bank (ECB) is illegal unless the ECB will prove within three months to the Federal Constitutional Court that the purchases are justifiable.

The German court disregarded that the ECJ had approved the practice used by the ECB in a separate ruling. The President of the German court, Andreas Vosskuhle, stated that the ECJ had approved a practice that “was obviously not covered” by the ECB mandate and implied that the German Federal Constitutional Court would not honour the ECJ’s ruling.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that the German court’s ruling established that the ECJ does not have unlimited power and called the verdict “one of the most important in the history of the EU”.

The British daily The Guardian writes that German chancellor Angela Merkel hopes that a conflict can be avoided by the ECB showing that the bond-buying programme is justified, but also told party members on May 11th that the issue had been complicated by the statements made by the Polish Prime Minister.

The accusations now levelled by the Head of the German Federal Constitutional Court against the Polish Constitutional Tribunal are likely to further fan the flames in the dispute, which now involves Warsaw, Berlin and Brussels, over judicial independence and whether national constitutions or the ECJ holds legal primacy.