Poland defends EU membership amid backlash over ruling
Poland’s government on Friday insisted it wanted the country to stay in the European Union as it faced a growing backlash against a court ruling that analysts said could lead to “Polexit”.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Poland must “fully and completely” implement EU law, while France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune said the ruling was an “attack against the EU”.
Poland’s Constitutional Court on Thursday challenged the primacy of EU law over Polish law by declaring several articles in the EU treaties “incompatible” with the country’s constitution.
It also warned EU institutions not to “act beyond the scope of their competences” by interfering with reforms of Poland’s judiciary — a major bone of contention with Brussels.
But right-wing Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that the process of Poland and other Central European countries joining the EU in 2004 was “one of the highlights of the last decades”.
“Poland’s place is and will be in the European family of nations,” he said in a Facebook post after former EU chief and now opposition leader Donald Tusk called for a major rally in Warsaw for Sunday “to defend a European Poland”.
– ‘Playing with fire’ –
Brussels responded sternly on Thursday, with EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders warning that the EU would use “all the tools” at its disposal to ensure the primacy of EU law.
Before the ruling, the EU had warned that the case could have “consequences” for tens of billions of euros in pandemic recovery grants and cheap loans for Poland which have still not received approval from Brussels.
Speaking to French network BFM-TV on Friday, Beaune said the ruling was “very serious” and there was “a risk of a de-facto exit” of Poland from the EU.
Maas told the Funke newspaper group: “If a country decides politically to be part of the EU, then it must ensure that the agreed rules are fully and completely implemented.”
Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said Poland’s government was “playing with fire” and that “at some point there could be a rupture, not just legally but also politically”.
Poles are overwhelmingly EU-enthusiastic, with over 80 percent backing membership of the bloc that has given their country billions of euros in subsidies, turbo-charging its development.
But relations have become increasingly strained since the right-wing populist Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power.
Morawiecki himself had asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the primacy of EU or Polish law following a series of rulings from the EU’s top court against Poland’s judicial reforms.
Opponents of the government lined up to criticise its approach.
Pro-EU freedom icon Lech Walesa, whose trade union activism helped overthrow the Communist regime in 1989, called for new elections in the country to “save the honour of Poland”.
– EU membership ‘really at stake’ –
In his Facebook post, Morawiecki sought to play down the implications of the ruling saying that the principle of the superiority of constitutional law over other sources of law had already been stated by courts in other member states.
“We have the same rights as other countries. We want these rights to be respected. We are not an uninvited guest in the European Union. And that’s why we don’t agree to be treated as a second-class country,” Morawiecki wrote.
But experts warned that the ruling, which still has to be officially published to have legal force, could be a first step towards Poland one day leaving the bloc.
“The ruling is absolutely inconsistent with European Union law and it should simply be ignored in the judgments of ordinary courts,” said Piotr Bogdanowicz from the University of Warsaw.
“Our membership of the EU is really at stake,” Bogdanowicz told TOKFM radio.
Adam Bodnar, Poland’s former human rights ombudsman, told TOKFM that the ruling constituted Polexit “in all but name”.