European Commission launches legal action against Poland over supremacy of EU law
The European Commission is taking legal action against Poland’s nationalist government over attempts to challenge the supremacy of European law.
The legal action is seen as a significant escalation in the tussle between the EU’s executive branch and Warsaw, narrowing the options to find a compromise.
In October, Poland’s constitutional court ruled that Polish law had supremacy over EU legislation where they conflict. Countries joining the EU must bring their laws into line with European legislation. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is the supreme arbiter of EU law.
Justice commissioner Didier Reynders opened “infringement” proceedings after Poland’s controversial constitutional tribunal in July and October set limits to the primacy of the European Union’s law.
“We’ve tried to engage in a dialogue but the situation is not improving,” Reynders said. “Fundamentals of the EU legal order, notably the primacy of EU law, must be respected.”
The dispute has led to large amounts of EU funding being frozen. Brussels is withholding approval of Covid recovery funds for Poland over the row.
Earlier this year, Poland and its ally Hungary filed complaints with the ECJ over the mechanism that blocks funding. A ruling is expected in the new year.
John Morijn, a law professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, praised the commission’s legal action.
He said Poland’s constitutional court has become a “political body” which threatens basic EU principles. He said the tribunal should not be considered a real court and Polish citizens’ right to a fair trial is “under threat”.
Poland claimed Brussels was overstepping its role as “guardian of the treaties” and violating Polish sovereignty.
Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said: “More and more EU states realise that there must be a limit somewhere to these powers. The development of bureaucratic centralism in Brussels is continuing and, unfortunately, it needs to be blocked.”
Current MEP and Poland’s previous prime minister, Beata Szydlo, said: “This is no longer a legal dispute, it is an attack on the Polish constitution and the foundations of Polish statehood.”
Controversial reforms to the Polish judiciary by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party have sparked the disagreements with the commission since the populist party took power in 2015.
PiS said the changes improved the functioning of the judiciary and helped remove communist-appointed judges. Opposition parties have called the legal changes authoritarian and a politicisation of the judiciary.
Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Picture credit: Flickr