European courts sue EU for billions in aid to Poland

Four European judicial associations are suing the European Union over the controversial decision to allow Poland to use almost 36 billion euros from the corona Recovery Fund. The judges challenge its legality before the European Court of Justice.

Poland had to restore its own rule of law in order to get the corona support. In July 2021, the European Court of Justice ruled that Poland had to meet several conditions in order to get the corona billions. For example, a notorious disciplinary chamber had to be abolished, where judges who were critical of the government and reforms could be removed from office.

Judges in this disciplinary chamber were appointed by the Polish government. The Polish parliament voted to abolish that disciplinary chamber, but that abolition was only cosmetic, says Kees Sterk, judge and professor of European jurisprudence. He was involved in this trial.

“That disciplinary chamber has received a different name, but essentially the core has remained the same,” says Sterk. “It is quite possible that the same judges will return there and be appointed by the government again.”Another condition of the court was that the Polish judges who were previously dismissed immediately and without exception got their jobs back. That didn’t happen.

“Instead, they get a chance to plead their case again. The decision to let Poland use the corona Recovery Fund states that a possible application by a judge to get his job back will take a year,” says Sterk. “And the outcome is not guaranteed. That goes against what the court has said.”

The European judicial associations, which also include Polish and Dutch judges, say that this has effectively made binding court rulings on protecting the independence of judges in Poland politically negotiable. This affects the position of judges across Europe. They want the EU’s highest court to rule on this.