Polexit? Why Poland has issued ‘direct challenge to EU law’ as Brussels in crisis

EU facing 'extremely difficult' legal row as top Poland court kicks out Brussels laws

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Poland has defied the EU after the nation’s constitutional tribunal ruled parts of the EU are incompatible with its constitution amid a dramatic escalation of the ongoing conflict between Warsaw and Brussels. The ruling brought by the Prime Minister saw a five-year feud bring success for Poland – while EU officials condemn the move accusing the country of setting its mind to “Polexit”.

A landmark court ruling made in Poland on Thursday evening has put Poland and the EU on a collision course over justice system reforms.

Poland’s top court rules the nation’s Constitution trumps EU law – circumventing the bloc’s power in the country’s courts.

The move, made after a long-running bitter battle between Brussels and Warsaw, saw tensions dramatically escalate.

The tribunal ruled: “The effort by the Court of Justice of the European Union to interfere in the Polish justice system violates the … principle of the primacy of the Polish constitution.”

The ruling means Warsaw is empowered to disregard a fundamental EU principle enshrined in the Treaties which concerns court independence.

Jakub Jaraczewski from Democracy Reporting International told Playbook: “For everything related to Article 19 [of the Treaty], especially the independence of the judiciary, the primacy of EU law does not apply in Poland.

“This is a direct challenge to EU law at an unprecedented scale.”

Thursday’s Constitutional Tribunal ruling was issued after months of delays and postponements and is seen as an effort to rule out such verdicts from the Luxembourg court.

The move has been taken as an intensification of the battle between the EU and Poland over radical justice system reforms – which has seen Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party Government embroiled in several battles with Brussels in recent months.

These disputes have primarily concerned the independence of courts, media freedoms, LGBT rights and other issues.

The nation’s PM Mateusz Morawiecki said Poland requested the Constitutional Tribunal to rule on whether EU law had primacy over Poland’s Constitution given the escalation of tensions between the nation and the bloc.

Critics of the move claim the PiS Government is jeopardising the nation’s long-term future with the EU as well as the stability of the bloc itself.

The European Commission swiftly warned the ruling raised “serious concerns”.

Jeroen Lenaers, a spokesman for the European People’s Party grouping on the Justice and Home Affairs Committee, said the ruling undermines claims by Poland’s government that it has no plans to quit the EU.

He said: “The Polish Government has lost its credibility. This is an attack on the EU as a whole.”

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has been very critical of the new disciplinary body in the Polish Supreme Court.

Earlier this year, the CJEU ruled the way judges are appointed may infringe on EU law.

On Wednesday, it found transfers of judges to new posts against their will are “potentially capable of undermining the principles of the irremovability of judges and judicial independence.”

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Mr Jaraczewski told Politico the move was seen as a “legal Polexit” and the CJEU could decide to return in kind with forceful measures to annexe Poland.

He said it is possible the CJEU would seek to protect EU legal order by declaring Poland exempt from judicial cooperation mechanisms such as European Arrest Warrant.

Other experts believe Poland could be hit with financial ramifications.

The European Commission has made clear that Poland’s pandemic recovery spending program, which is worth an astounding €24 billion in grants and €12 billion in loans, has yet to be approved.

This means the ruling’s impact on Poland’s funds has yet to be determined.

Lucas Guttenberg, deputy director of Berlin think tank Delors Centre tweeted: “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.”

But, the ruling has been seen as a win for Poland by the nation’s officials.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki welcomed a Polish court ruling which said some parts of the European Union treaties are incompatible with the nation’s Constitution on Friday.

On Facebook, the Polish PM wrote: “We want a community of respect and not a grouping of those who are equal and more equal. This is our community, our Union.

“This is the kind of Union we want and that’s the kind of Union we will create.”

Mr Morawiecki added Poland still wants to stay in the “European family of nations”, but stressed the importance of Polish freedoms.

The stand-off has also sparked angry rhetoric in Warsaw, with some calling for Poland to leave the EU entirely.

In August, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, leader of Poland’s smaller coalition partner United Poland, said the country should not remain in the EU “at any price”.

However, the leading PiS has made it clear it has no intention of withdrawing the nation’s membership.

This is also backed by recent polls which show 80 percent of natives support EU membership.

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