The evolution of the new political and economic experiment in the shape of the European Union (EU) came out after decades of political instability in Europe when chaos and expansionism was on the peak in the region. The EU is an exceptional political and economic partnership that now comprises of 27-member states, after the exit of Great Britain. Generally, it is believed that the EU has a wider hand in European stability and prosperity, but unfortunately, the Union faces some ideological, political, and judicial differences that can jeopardise this Grand Political experiment.
One of the core principles of the EU is the supremacy of its laws that means: regulations decided in Brussels are applied equally across its 27 member states. Earlier in March 2021, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued a ruling that they can force their member states to disregard certain provisions in national law, including constitutional law. The Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki presented the case to Poland’s constitutional Tribunal and requested a review of a decision by the ECJ. In October 2021, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal issued its verdict where Polish law can take precedence over the EU law. This controversial verdict became a heated debate for the officials in Brussels. The Tribunal highlighted its incompatibility with four specific articles of the treaty on the European Union (TEU)- Article 1, Article 2, Article 4(3), and Article 19. Article 1 led to the establishment of the EU, while Article 2 stresses on normative values such as freedom, democracy, the rule of law, Human rights, and equality.
The Tribunal highlighted its incompatibility with four specific articles of the treaty on the European Union (TEU)- Article 1, Article 2, Article 4(3), and Article 19.
Similarly, Article 4(3) underlines mutual respect in helping each other in carrying tasks from treaties, and Article 19 permits the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to ensure the interpretation and application of the treaties under which the law is observed. The Tribunal’s ruling of declaring the importance of national law over some of the EU laws has sent shockwaves across Europe. While the far-right urged to punish Poland for challenging the essence of the EU, others think that the bloc may encounter the exit of another EU member. However, the EU rejected the legality of the appointed judges. The European Court of Justice stated that the Polish constitutional court and its judges are not up to the European standards.
Thousands of people gathered in Warsaw to show support for the EU membership of Poland as speculations erupted about the exit of Poland from the EU. The former president of the European Council and current President of the opposition party Civic Platform, Donald Tusk, expressed his concerns over the crisis between the EU and Poland. The demonstrations were the outcome of the decision by Poland’s highest court judges that questioned the primacy of EU’s laws. Hence, challenging core principles of the EU means challenging the integrity of the institution. That is why the decision has faced severe criticism by the EU officials in Brussels. For instance, Didier Reynders, the EU justice commissioner to a press briefing, said that the EU is inspecting the circumstances and might consider the daily financial sanctions over Poland.
Since the arrival of the Law and Justice party to power in Poland, they appear to be in charge of reorganising the Polish judicial system. The European court of justice opposed the establishment of the Constitutional Tribunal and urged that it must be dissolved, but Poland has done nothing. It is not the first time that Brussels has been caught up in such a situation because Germany challenged the European court last year and won the precedence of national law over the EU policy. The German constitutional court was blamed for launching “a legal missile into the heart of the EU”, which undermines the very core values of the institution’s legal order. This decision questioned the legality of the European Central Bank’s (ECB) quantitative easing program, despite being declared compatible with the EU law by the court of justice of the European Union. However, in case of Poland, the Polish high court went further by declaring full provisions of the EU treaties to be incompatible with Poland’s national constitution.
The German constitutional court was blamed for launching “a legal missile into the heart of the EU”, which undermines the very core values of the institution’s legal order.
The EU withheld its allocated funding worth €23billion as part of the novel coronavirus recovery package for Poland (and Hungary) that was agreed earlier with €34billion in loans. The legal dispute between Warsaw and Brussels turned out to be hostile as the top court of the EU fined the Polish government €1million a day over political interference in the judiciary.
The EU has cued Poland to roll back some of its judiciary reforms to get access to billions of euros of aid that was to be given to Warsaw to bring back its economy on track mauled by the covid-19 Pandemic. Whereas, the Polish prime minister called it a “blackmail” from Brussels and said withholding European funds from Warsaw could endanger the achievement of climate change.
Angela Merkel is playing the role of peace broker between Brussels and Warsaw to overcome the mounting tensions of Poland’s primacy over the EU’s law. She opposed the Polexit and urged the EU to go soft on Poland. Whereas other members of the EU, such as France and Netherland are more anxious about Poland’s move and want to hit Poland with punitive measures. The EU cannot withdraw the membership of Poland legally, but it has the right to charge Warsaw with financial sanctions, which it has already done. If Poland shows reluctance to pay the fine, the EU can cut off the money from Poland’s transfer that it receives from the EU.
Currently, it is a challenging time for the EU as just a year ago Britain left the Union, the differences with the Hungarian government and now, similar circumstances are growing in Poland. A massive support in Warsaw reflects a decision to stay as an EU member by the Polish citizens. But the Polish Constitutional Tribunal ruling prompted debates like the exit of Poland from the EU and gradual disintegration of the EU. The EU was taught a lesson in the form of Brexit. So, going hard on Poland could escalate the conflict further, and history may repeat itself with a disastrous departure of another member from the EU. Therefore, the EU needs to find creative solutions that benefit both sides. The EU has always been a leading example of regional connectivity and stability. One can neither say that it is a fully-fledged federation nor merely a community of sovereign nation-states. The future of the supranational body is dependent on its member states which include Poland as a significant entity as others.