“The beginning of the end of the European Union as we know it”
Poland’s highest court has ruled that EU law is no longer binding. Other countries could follow this unprecedented course of confrontation. Internally, high EU diplomats consider drastic financial sanctions to be appropriate. But the EU Commission is struggling.
FFor insiders it was foreseeable for a long time, and yet the latest ruling by the Polish Constitutional Court is shaking the European Union: Court President Julia Przylebska stated on Thursday that essential parts of the European treaties are incompatible with the Polish constitution. It is the ultimate escalation in the dispute over the dismantling of the rule of law in Poland. The process is like nothing in the legal history of the EU.
Now the big guesswork begins: What is the EU doing about going it alone from Warsaw? And: will other countries such as Slovenia or Hungary now also dare to attack EU law? EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said she was “very concerned”. Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn was even clearer: “Poland is playing with fire.”
Almost all well-known experts understand the Polish verdict as a “legal polexit”, ie as Poland’s departure from the European legal system. The EU Commission is alarmed because, from the point of view of Brussels, the Polish court has made a fundamental decision that attacks the democratic basis of the Union head-on: The Warsaw judgment declared Articles 1 and 19 of the European Treaties null and void – and thus at the same time declared their integrative character the EU and the authority of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
From Poland’s point of view, on the other hand, it is about an alleged restoration of its own sovereignty. The Polish government supports the verdict. “The Polish Constitutional Court decided what the German Federal Constitutional Court had already decided in 2009 and 2019, namely that the EU has no powers in the area of influence over the organization of the judiciary in Germany,” said Vice Minister of Justice Sebastian Kaleta to WELT AM SONNTAG.
“Poland has been European for over a thousand years”
And of course the EU has no powers to determine the jurisdiction in Poland, said the government politician. Ryszard Legutko, chairman of the delegation of Poland’s ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) in the European Parliament, assured: “There will be no Polexit.” The Polish Committee on Law and Justice had clearly said that too. “Poland has been European for over a thousand years,” says Legutko.
Numerous legal experts, however, reject the comparison made by the Polish government with the Federal Constitutional Court. The dispute is another chapter in a longstanding dispute between Warsaw and Brussels. This involves a fundamental question: How much can Brussels interfere in national affairs, and how sovereign can a member state of the EU be?
The question was actually already resolved when Poland joined the EU in 2004, because Warsaw also accepted the EU’s rules and regulations. But the PiS has been carrying out its so-called judicial reform for six years: it creates new chambers or uses a disciplinary system to force unpleasant judges to give up their office. It is therefore at odds with the EU Commission.
A number of reprimands from Brussels and the rule of law proceedings did nothing. On the contrary: The conflict reached its preliminary climax when the Polish Constitutional Court declared in July that the judgments of the ECJ in relation to the controversial disciplinary body in Poland were not valid. It was the prelude to the current landmark judgment.
Spicy: According to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the Polish Constitutional Court is already partially illegally occupied. Some judges are considered loyal supporters of the PiS government. It is therefore completely unclear to what extent the judgment can have an impact in Europe. The prevailing opinion among Brussels diplomats is that Poland can currently only be gripped by paying out EU money from the Corona fund, a total of 36 billion euros.
On the other hand, the EU Commission seems to be undecided as to whether it does not want to pay out part of the amount in November. In EU circles, the impression is growing that the EU Commission has “no real strategy” in the case of Poland, as a high-ranking EU diplomat said in Brussels.
The Vice President of the EU Parliament and former Federal Minister of Justice, Katarina Barley (SPD), told WELT AM SONNTAG: “The judgment of the Polish Constitutional Court is a blow against the rule of law in Europe. The Polish government has its political constitutional court attest that it will no longer have to comply with European law in the future. Judges who do this anyway face fines. ”
The Commission should not let the PiS get away with this “dam breach”. “You must not give any European Corona billions to Warsaw and must also block other funding,” said Barley. She added: “If other right-wing populist governments in Europe see that you can get money from Brussels without adhering to common rules, that will be the beginning of the end of the European Union as we know it.”