C-619/18 European Commission v Republic of Poland [2019]

C-619/18 European Commission v Republic of Poland [2019] addressed two main legal issues: the violation of equal pay measures under Article 157 TFEU and the breach of Article 19(1) TEU read in light of Article 47 CFREU concerning judicial independence. The proceedings were initiated by the Commission against Poland, alleging a failure to uphold its obligations under EU law.

In relation to the first complaint under Article 157 TFEU, the Commission argued that the Polish legislation, which lowered the compulsory retirement age for judges and public prosecutors based on gender, violated the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sex. The Court held that the conditions set by the legislation introduced directly discriminatory practices, failing to comply with both Article 157 TFEU and Article 5(1) of Directive 2006/54.

The second complaint, based on Article 19(1) TEU read in light of Article 47 CFREU, focused on the issue of judicial independence. The Commission contended that Poland failed to establish a system of legal remedies ensuring effective judicial review, particularly concerning bodies like the ordinary Polish courts. The Court emphasised the inherent requirement of judicial independence, which is essential for effective judicial protection and a fair trial, as outlined in Article 47 of the Charter.

The Court found that the mechanism introduced by Poland, allowing the Minister for Justice to extend a judge's term beyond the new retirement age, undermined the independence of judges by not guaranteeing they would carry out their duties autonomously and be protected against external intervention or pressure. The specific conditions and procedural rules imposed by the contested national provisions did not meet the requirements to protect judges from potential influences.

In its judgment, the Court concluded that Poland's measures violated EU law, both in terms of equal pay under Article 157 TFEU and the requirements of judicial independence under Article 19(1) TEU read in conjunction with Article 47 CFREU.

This case highlights the significance of this case, noting that it marked the first time the Court of Justice found a Member State in violation of the obligation to provide remedies sufficient for effective judicial protection under Article 19(1) TEU. The ruling underscores the Court's role in safeguarding fundamental principles of the rule of law, especially in situations where explicit rule-of-law backsliding affects a national judiciary.

This case also raises broader questions about the EU's role in addressing systemic threats to the rule of law and the ongoing challenges in handling such matters, as exemplified by Art. 7(1) TEU proceedings initiated against Poland and Hungary. Criticism is directed at the Council and the Commission for perceived delays and disagreements on how to tackle rule-of-law backsliding at a systemic level, emphasising the need for a comprehensive approach that considers the consequences for fundamental rights.
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