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#Analize / Mălina Mîndruțescu

Poland’s war with the EU

On October 7th, Julia Przyłębska, the president of the Constitutional Tribunal of the Republic of Poland set a quite unimaginable precedent across the European bloc, bringing the union into further distress: she declared that part of the EU’s law was incompatible with Poland’s constitution. This ruling effectively trumped EU law, announcing that Polish law and the country’s constitution takes precedence over EU law.

The tribunal ruled that “the effort by the Court of Justice of the European Union to interfere in the Polish justice system violates the principle of rule of law, the principle of the primacy of the Polish constitution as well as the principle of retaining sovereignty in the process of European integration”.

This message echoed loud and clear across the Union, and first and foremost, at Brussels, where the EU leadership responded in a likeminded manner.

The EU leadership was despondent by the aggressive tactics of a member state, that at the beginning of its ascension to the bloc in 2004 was seen as a European success story in Eastern Europe, – paving the way to democracy in the post-Soviet bloc.

In a statement that came out the same day as the Polish ruling, the EU Commission reaffirmed the primacy of EU law, stating that “the Commission will not hesitate to make use of its powers under the [EU] Treaties to safeguard the uniform application and integrity of Union law”.

Poland’s move is meant to represent a message by the ruling Law and Justice party, who, since coming to power in 2015, has seen a rampant rise of animosity between Brussels and Warsaw. The party, under the leadership of Jarosław Kaczyński, who acts as Deputy Prime Minister of Poland, but who is the master puppet behind the scenes, has embarked on an effort to overhaul the independence and supremacy of the judiciary, effectively subjugating it to the executive.

Other tactics represent the constitutional court being neutered by 2016 in a series of manoeuvres that were deemed unconstitutional and PiS attempting to purge the Supreme Court in 2018. “It also set up a disciplinary regime that allowed judges to be punished for the content of their rulings”, the FT reports.

The tribunal, headed by Julia Przyłębska, a close confidante of Kaczyński, is said to be under the control of the Law and Justice party and staffed in violation of the Polish constitution, was “ruling on a question submitted by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on whether the Court of Justice of the EU is going too far in its rulings on Poland’s judicial system and exceeds its competences under the European Treaties”, reports Politico.

Mateusz Morawiecki

Photo source: Shutterstock

 

This act has come at a response to the CJEU (Court of Justice of the European Union), who has been a vocal sceptic, and even opponent to the way the justice system was being organised in Poland.

At the beginning of this year, CJEU expressed concern, ruling that the way judges had been appointed may infringe upon EU law, and in early October, CJEU found that transfers of judges to new posts against their will are “potentially capable of undermining the principles of the irremovability of judges and judicial independence”.

The political battle between Brussels and Warsaw has only intensified significantly in the last few months, with a particular focus on how the Polish government is radically reforming the judicial system, aiming to bring the courts under a tighter political control of the executive.

Last week, the tensions rose even higher, with Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, claiming that the EU was making demands of Warsaw with a “gun to our head”.

This statement came after the EU officials reported that a certain breach of European law will come with retaliation for Poland – one of member states that benefits from one of the largest EU budgets.

poland protests

Photo source: Associated Press

 

The changes made by Morawieck’s party, the Law and Justice Party, to the judicial system are said to be necessary, in order to increase efficiency. However, the EU leadership sees it differently. Amid the Polish ruling, Brussels announced that Warsaw may be punished with legal and daily financial sanctions, if the country does not resolve its rule of law crisis.

The tensions have already delayed approval from Brussels for a Covid-19 economic recovery package worth more than €36 billion (worth €24 billion in grants and €12 billion in loans). The FT reports that “some member states and parts of the commission have also called for a new conditionality mechanism that could threaten tens of billions of euros in annual EU funds paid to Warsaw”.

Political experts have uttered their disapproval with regards to the Polish decision. A political think tanker from Berlin has said on Twitter that “I don’t see how the Commission and a qualified majority of member states can greenlight the Polish plan to get recovery instrument money as long as this ruling stands. My sense is: This will backfire big time”.

Senior EU officials agree with this view. While many are claiming that following this action, Poland has lost its credibility and the country is disavowing the rules and values that it had signed up for when it joined the EU, – a sharp reaction is warranted and expected from CJEU, while Poland could very well become a rogue state in the near future, becoming exempt from various judicial cooperation, and funding.

Morawiecki has had talks with EU leaders, including with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to lay out Poland’s argument for why it believes the EU was overstepping its powers. He said the talks had been promising.

However, in order for a settlement to be reaches, Morawiecki wants the reversal of a September ruling, in which Brussels has imposed daily fines on Warsaw, until the country implements a number of ECJ rulings related to its judicial reform.

european union leaders

Photo source: Associated Press

 

Amid these growing tensions, the world “Polexit” has started to enter this political debate, but Poland’s exit from the European bloc is unlikely in the near future. While the EU cannot effectively remove a member state from its bloc, this decision would also not be popular among Polish citizens – more than 88% of Poles support EU membership.

For other True Story Project analyses on Poland and the EU, please click here and here.

 

Photo source: EPA-EFE

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