Polish court head lays into German judge's 'scandalous' criticism

BERLIN (Reuters) - Poland’s Constitutional Court president rejected remarks by her German counterpart as “scandalous” after he was quoted in a newspaper questioning whether the court was truly independent of the Polish government.

FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective mask walks past the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) at sunset in Frankfurt, Germany, April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo

The spat is the latest escalation in a row kicked off by the German Constitutional Court’s judgement last week that it could in some circumstances override rulings of the European Union’s top court in Luxembourg.

Critics said that decision, in which Germany’s top court held that more evidence was needed that the European Central Bank’s bond-buying programme was justified, gave ammunition to authoritarian-minded governments in eastern Europe who might wish to circumvent EU court rulings.

In an interview with Germany’s Die Zeit weekly, Andreas Vosskuhle, departing president of the German Constitutional Court, said it was not the court’s job to consider how other countries’ courts would respond to its decision with respect to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

“The Poles do what they do regardless of what we do,” Vosskuhle told Die Zeit, adding that the Polish court was “no longer a court to be taken seriously, but a puppet.”

Poland’s nationalist, euroceptic government is in a long-running dispute with the EU over judicial reforms which critics say undermine the independence of the courts. It has argued that the bloc has no right to interfere in its reforms.

On Sunday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was quoted by German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung as saying the German Constitutional court’s ECB verdict was one of the most important in EU history.

The German ruling was also welcomed in Hungary, whose nationalist government has also had run-ins with the EU over the independence of its judiciary.

Julia Przylebska, head of Poland’s constitutional tribunal who has been described by the leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party as a close friend, said Vosskuhle’s remarks “did not conform to any canons of honest public debate.”

“I am mortified that a person fulfilling such an important function should speak out in such a manner,” Polish state-run news agency PAP quoted her as saying.

Vosskuhle also defended the decision on the bond-purchasing programmes, saying it was good for Europe.

“We firmly believe that this decision is good for Europe because it strengthens the rule of law. That will become apparent in the medium and long term,” he was quoted as saying.

Vosskuhle echoed other colleagues on the German court in saying the decision was a contribution to dialogue. [L8N2CV2MI]

The ruling gave the ECB three months to explain how its bond-purchasing programme was proportionate or lose Germany’s Bundesbank - the largest of the 19 national banks that are members of the ECB - as a participant.

Reporting by Thomas Seythal, Riham Alkousaa and Alan Charlish; Editing by Maria Sheahan, Thomas Escritt and Mark Heinrich