The European Commission announced Wednesday it would refer Poland to the EU’s top court for passing a 2020 law beefing up the country’s rules on penalizing judges.

The law undermines “the judicial independence of Polish judges” and is “incompatible with the primacy of EU law,” the Commission said in a statement.

The Commission’s referral of Poland to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) comes a year after Brussels launched an infringement procedure — the fourth of its kind — against Warsaw for passing a law that can be used to reprimand judges accused of complicating the functioning of the justice system or who call into question how fellow judges were appointed.

“The Commission considers that the Polish law on the judiciary undermines the independence of Polish judges and is incompatible with the primacy of EU law,” the statement said. “Moreover, the new law prevents Polish courts from directly applying certain provisions of EU law protecting judicial independence, and from putting references for preliminary rulings on such questions to the Court of Justice.”

Wednesday’s decision is part of a long battle between Brussels and Warsaw over the rule of law, which started when the Commission launched a so-called Article 7 procedure against Poland, beginning a process that could theoretically lead to Poland losing its voting rights in the European Council. Since then, the Commission has launched four infringement procedures, which were backed by the CJEU’s final judgments.

By referring the case to the CJEU, the Commission is counting on judges there to confirm the court’s earlier verdicts, and it asks them “to order interim measures so as to prevent the aggravation of serious and irreparable harm inflicted to judicial independence and the EU legal order.”

The Polish law — which came into force on February 20 — is a direct response to a November ruling from the CJEU. That ruling said Polish courts will have to determine whether a newly created disciplinary chamber for judges and the National Council of the Judiciary, which is responsible for judicial appointments, are “sufficiently independent.”

Following the Commission’s announcement on Wednesday, Věra Jourová, the Commission vice-president in charge of “Values and Transparency” said she was “deeply concerned” about the “continued actions that undermine judicial independence in Poland,” and the “constant erosion” of the judges’ independence.

“This is not an ideological issue,” Jourová said. “Rule of law and judicial independence are neither left-wing or right-wing … In simple terms, making the judicial system increasingly dependent on the will of politicians decreases control over what those politicians do and is not a direction that will restore the trust of citizens in the judiciary.”

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