4th Jul 2022

Von der Leyen vows action against Poland

  • Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki arriving in the European Parliament plenary in Strasbourg for the debate on Tuesday (Photo: European Parliament)
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EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday (19 October) said the EU executive will take action over a recent Polish decision to challenge the primacy of EU law.

Von der Leyen said the Polish Constitutional Tribunal's ruling earlier this month, which said that parts of EU treaties are incompatible with the Polish constitution, "calls into question the foundations of the European Union".

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She told MEPs, in a debate with Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki in the European parliament in Strasbourg, that the commission will use one of the tools at its disposal as a response to the tribunal's move.

"We cannot and we will not allow our common values to be put at risk. The commission will act," von der Leyen said, adding that the ruling is a "direct challenge to the unity of the European legal order".

She said the commission might use either an infringement procedure, or an EU probe into the ruling, or the new tool of conditionality which could lead to the suspension of EU funds, or the Article 7 sanctions procedure.

There is already one Article 7 procedure under way against Poland, since 2017, for undermining the independence of the judiciary.

Von der Leyen said the commission is assessing the ruling and will act accordingly, and added that she is "deeply concerned".

The tribunal's ruling has significantly escalated a long-running legal battle between the Warsaw government and the EU institutions over its domestic overhaul of the judiciary.

The Law and Justice party (PiS)-run government said reforms are needed to purge the courts of a communist heritage, while the commission said it used it to put courts under political control.

Critics say the Constitutional Tribunal itself is controlled by the governing right-wing PiS.

For his party, Morawiecki insisted his government is part of the "pro-European majority in Poland".

He accused the EU of double standards and argued that there is "creeping revolution" by EU institutions overstepping their power.

"We must not remain silent when our country is under the attack also in this room in an unjust and partial way," he told MEPs.

"It is unacceptable to expand competencies of institutions by 'fait accompli', or impose a verdict without a legal basis. […] It is unacceptable to talk about financial penalties, talk of fines, I reject the language of threats and fait accompli, we will not have EU politicians blackmail Poland," Morawiecki said.

"Penalties by stronger and richer countries on poor countries stills struggling with the heritage of communism - this is not a good way for the future," he added.

He argued that the Constitutional Tribunal only defended against an overreach by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), saying that "EU competencies have clear boundaries, and we must not remain silent when they are breached".

The Polish premier instead suggested the ECJ should be transformed and have a chamber made up of members of EU countries' constitutional courts.

Splitting Europe

However, the majority of MEPs scolded the Polish PM for destabilising the EU's legal foundations, and called for the commission to take action.

German centre-right MEP Manfred Weber warned Morawiecki that he is sowing discord within the EU, making it weaker, and playing into the hands of Russian president Vladimir Putin "who wants to split Europe'.

Spanish socialist MEP Iratxe Garcia told the Polish PM that is problem was not with the EU legal order, "but with the concept of democracy and the rule of law".

"You have not understood what the EU is. […] The pathway of exercising sovereign is by sharing it," she said.

Far-right MEP Nicolas Bay, of the Identity & Democracy group, defended the Warsaw government, and accused the EU of "persecuting sovereign conservative governments that are democratically-elected".

Poland and the commission have been stuck in negotiations over the €23.9bn in grants and €12.1bn in cheap loans that Poland can receive from the EU's Covid-19 recovery fund.

The money is unlikely to be unlocked until Warsaw backs down on the judicial issues.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, MEPs will vote on a resolution on "the rule of law crisis in Poland".

The debate in Strasbourg comes only a few days before a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels, where some leaders may confront Morawiecki face-to-face.

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