Poland’s Top Court Rules National Constitution Has Primacy over EU Law Raising Specter of ‘Polexit’
The legal spat between the EU institutions and Poland has been exacerbated as on Thursday the Polish Constitutional Tribunal ruled that some articles of the European Union treaties are unconstitutional in the country.
The ruling has thus rejected a crucial tenet of European integration which stipulates the primacy of EU over national law, and has been seen by critics as potentially paving the way from Poland’s exist from the European Union, “Polexit”.
Poland’s government of the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) is tangled in a number of legal and political disputes with the EU institutions backed by primarily Western European member states on crucial issues such as the independence of the judiciary, media freedom and LGBT rights.
“The EU Treaty is subordinate to the constitution in the Polish legal system … and, like any part of the Polish legal system, it must comply with the constitution,” Judge Bartlomiej Sochanski said, as cited by TVN24.
The ruling was backed by 12 out of the 14 judges on the panel, while two of the judges dissented from the majority opinion.
The controversial ruling by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal has come up after Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki asked it to issue a judgement on whether the institutions of the EU can stop the government-initiated reforms of the country’s judiciary. The court first started hearing the case in July.
What’s maybe even more striking is that in its ruling, the tribunal argued that it has right to check the constitutionality of EU law but also the rulings of the European Court of Justice, the EU’s top court.
“The attempt by the European Court of Justice to involve itself with Polish legal mechanisms violates … the rules that give priority to the constitution and rules that respect sovereignty amid the process of European integration,” the ruling said.
In fact, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal warned that if the EU Court of Justice didn’t quit questioning the tribunal’s decisions and the status of its judges, the former would not “exclude exercising its rights and examining the compliance of CJEU rulings with the constitution, including (the possibility) of removing them from the Polish legal system”.
“In Poland the highest legal act is the constitution and all European regulations that are in force in Poland … must comply with the constitution,” Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling PiS party, stated after the ruling was announced.
“This also applies to the judiciary and the European Union has nothing to say here,” he added.
The European Commission, the EU executive, reacted on to the Polish Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling by stating that it raised serious concerns about the primacy of EU law.
“We will analyse the ruling of Polish Constitutional Tribunal in detail and we will decide on the next steps,” it added, but also gave a warning of its own.
“All rulings by the European Court of Justice are binding on all member states’ authorities, including national courts… The Commission will not hesitate to make use of its powers under the Treaties to safeguard the uniform application and integrity of Union law,” the Commission added in a statement.
“Today’s verdict in Poland cannot remain without consequences. The primacy of EU law must be undisputed. Violating it means challenging one of the founding principles of our union,” European Parliament President David Sassoli said.
Critics have been quick to declare that by challenging the supremacy of EU law, the PiS government jeopardizes Poland’s long-term future in the EU but also the stability of the Union itself.
“It’s a confederation of anti-democratic forces against Poland’s membership in the European Union,” tweeted pro-EU Polish lawyer Michal Wawrykiewicz, calling the tribunal’s ruling a “black day” in Poland’s history.
“Non-recognition of ECJ rulings is de facto the path to Polexit,” wrote Borys Budka from the liberal-conservative opposition alliance Civic Coalition.
The PiS party denies having any plans for a “Polexit” or having influence over court decisions.
Banner image: Wikipedia Commons, by www.polen-heute.de