is about a showdown.
Today, Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki visited the European Parliament in Strasbourg. There he found himself listening to Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, who was delivering a strongly critical speech addressed to Poland’s government for challenging the supremacy of EU law.
What did she say about Poland?
That she is “deeply concerned” over the developments in Poland and that “we cannot, and we will not allow our common values to be put at risk.”
How did the Polish prime minister respond?
With an argumentative and counter-attacking speech of his own. Morawiecki accused the EU of double standards in its treatment of Warsaw and said that EU institutions had overstepped their powers in trying to force Poland to roll back its reforms.
What is this dispute about?
Poland’s constitutional tribunal had ruled that parts of EU law are not compatible with the Polish constitution. In return, the European Commission said that it would take steps to punish Poland for challenging the supremacy of EU law.
Give me more details.
The top Polish court ruled on October 7 that some provisions of the EU treaties are incompatible with the Polish constitution. The judges said the country’s EU membership did not give EU courts supreme legal authority and did not mean Poland had shifted its sovereignty to the EU. The judgement is seen as a direct and unprecedented attack against the primacy of the EU law, one of the union’s cornerstone principles. This principle states that, in all cases where the EU has competence, the block’s laws have a priority over national legislation, even over a country’s constitution.
Why is this so important?
Without that principle, a proper and uniform application of EU law across all territories can’t be ensured.
So it’s just about the interpretation of laws?
It’s more than that. The ruling was initiated by a petition from Morawiecki himself, who wanted to know if the EU’s Court of Justice exceeded its competence. There are a lot of controversies if the Polish tribunal is lawfully appointed. At least one person of that court isn’t, the European Court of Human Rights has said.
The argument isn’t new, is it?
There is a five-year-long struggle between Brussels and Warsaw over rule of law concerns. This is related to sweeping judicial reforms by the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) that have included an attempt to purge the Supreme Court and introduce a disciplinary regime that allows judges to be punished for the content of their rulings.
What can the EU do about it?
The EU commission could withhold tens of billions of euros in EU funds with a so-called conditionality mechanism. The final option would be the EU’s Article 7 procedure, which allows the bloc to suspend members’ rights if it believes EU values are being consistently endangered.
Will the EU go so far?
The commission is under increasing pressure from European lawmakers and some member states to harden its stance against Poland. But the Article 7 procedure needs unanimity. A previous attempt to use the procedure against Poland has slipped into a stalemate after Hungary vowed to block it. That would probably happen again, this time since Hungary’s prime minister Victor Orban is still in power (the next parliamentary elections will be held in 2022).
Ninety per cent of Poles support EU membership. Subsequently, the ruling PiS in Poland is doing the same. It has insisted that it has no intention of taking Poland out of the EU.
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