European Court of Justice Photograph:( Reuters )
Brussels and Warsaw have been at odds for years over reforms pushed through by the Polish government
The EU's Court of Justice on Thursday ruled that a central part of Poland's judicial reforms was "not compatible" with the law, escalating a standoff that could trigger financial penalties.
"Poland has failed to fulfil its obligations under EU law," the court said in its ruling on a contested reform concerning disciplinary cases involving judges in Poland.
"Where the court finds that there has been a failure to fulfil obligations, the member state concerned must take the measures necessary to rectify the situation," it said.
Warsaw and Brussels have been at loggerheads for years over reforms pushed through by the Polish government, which is led by the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party.
The Polish law on reforming the judiciary, which came into force in February last year, prevents judges from referring questions of law to the European Court of Justice.
It set up a "disciplinary chamber" to oversee Polish judges, with the power to lift their immunity to expose them to criminal proceedings or cut their salaries.
The EU court ruling comes a day after the same court ordered Poland to cease all activities of the "disciplinary chamber".
If Poland fails to comply, it could face financial penalties.
Government spokesman Piotr Muller told public broadcaster TVP1 on Thursday that with its rulings, the European court was "attempting to acquire the competences of the member states" on judicial matters.
"It's an attempt to give EU institutions competences beyond what they have been granted in the treaties," he said.
The government argues the reforms are necessary to tackle corruption and end Communist-era legacies in the judiciary.
But the European Commission says they undermine rule of law and has sought to bring Poland, as well as Hungary, back into line with what it sees as European democratic norms.
Poland's Constitutional Court on Wednesday defied Brussels with its own ruling saying that any interim measures from the EU court against Poland's judicial reforms were "not in line" with the Polish constitution.
Government critics said that ruling constituted a departure from the EU's legal order, dubbing it a kind of "Polexit".
Former EU chief Donald Tusk, head of the opposition Civic Platform party, accused PiS of "leaving the EU".
"Only we Poles can successfully oppose this," he tweeted.