Rattled by a protest march through Warsaw on Sunday by up to half a million people, many of them waving European Union flags, Poland’s nationalist government lashed out angrily on Monday at the latest legal setback in a long-running feud with the European bloc over the rule of law.
A ruling by Europe’s highest court, the European Court of Justice, delivered an emphatic rebuke to Poland over what it ruled were illegal efforts to curtail the independence of the Polish judiciary.
The hard-line justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, the architect of a judicial overhaul, signed into law in 2020, at the heart of Poland’s rift with Brussels, responded to the verdict by declaring that it “cannot be considered credible because the main European court is corrupt.” He vowed not to comply, despite the fact that noncompliance would likely cost Poland billions of dollars in badly needed European funding.
A news bulletin on TVP, the main state broadcaster, sneered at the decision as a political assault on Polish statehood, a theme often deployed by the governing party, Law and Justice, as it has geared up for a general election in October. A message flashed on the screen summing up the right-wing government’s view of the court decision: “Eurocrats attack Poland yet again!”
The E.U. ruling and Poland’s defiantly dismissive response to it ended what had been a temporary truce between Warsaw and Brussels, brought about by Russia’s war in Ukraine. The conflict in neighboring Ukraine had curbed the bloc’s criticism of Poland, which has won widespread praise for sheltering millions of refugees and serving as a transit route for Western weapons to help Kyiv resist Russia’s military onslaught.
A consensus across Poland’s political spectrum on the need to help Ukraine remains in place, but has been overtaken in recent weeks by increasingly venomous domestic political battles ahead of the October election.
The ruling against Poland was announced just a day after opposition parties, alarmed by the Polish government’s quarrels with the European Union, its misuse of state broadcasting as a propaganda bullhorn and other abuses of power, mobilized hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets of Warsaw, Krakow and other major cities.
It was the biggest public display of anti-government sentiment since anti-Communist protests in the 1980s led by the Solidarity trade union movement.
State television, widely watched in rural areas that provide Law and Justice’s political base, mostly ignored the huge protests. In contrast, it gave blanket coverage to a march by just a few thousand people in April, organized by the government to protest criticism of Pope John Paul II, the Polish-born pontiff, on an American-owned Polish television channel.
Opinion polls indicate that Law and Justice, in power since 2015, will win a narrow victory in October thanks to its vocal defense of traditional Christian values against what it derides as “L.G.B.T. ideology,” as well as its frequent attacks on the European Union as a threat to Polish sovereignty and a recently expanded program of welfare payments to needy families.
Claiming that Monday’s court verdict “was not written by judges but politicians,” Mr. Ziobro said the decision by the Luxembourg-based court “constitutes a clear violation of European treaties.” His remarks indicated that Poland would now escalate its dispute and launch countersuits to challenge the conformity of the ruling with treaties dating back to 1957 that provide the legal foundations of the European Union.
The bloc’s justice commissioner, Didier Reynders, however, declared the matter closed.
“You can disagree with the European Commission, but the judgment of the E.U. Court of Justice settles the matter for good,” Mr. Reynders said, applauding the decision as “an important day for the restoration of independent justice in Poland.” He demanded that legislation overhauling the Polish judiciary “will need to be adapted accordingly.”
That is unlikely to happen, even though the Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, last month acknowledged that Mr. Ziobro’s judicial reforms “have not turned out too well.” With an election for Parliament looming, Law and Justice needs Mr. Ziobro, who has his own radical right-wing party that could prove vital to the formation of a coalition government in the event of a close result between the governing party and the main opposition force, Civic Platform.
Anatol Magdziarz contributed reporting.