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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

Poland Challenges the Primacy of EU Law.

Warsaw, Poland Photograph by Author

On Thursday, Poland's Constitutional Tribunal concluded that the Polish Constitution takes precedence over EU law, rejecting the primacy of the latter. The long-awaited ruling came in response to a request from the Polish Government for the court to clarify the relationship between Polish and EU law and sets Warsaw on a collision course with Brussels (again).

In most countries, the notion that international agreements and membership of supranational organisations should be compatible with the national constitution would be uncontroversial - followers of US politics, in particular, will be familiar with the reverence in which America's founding document is held - but Poland is a member of the European Union; an organisation which takes a rather different view of the matter.

Soon after the ruling, the EU Commission issued a Tweet* asserting that "EU law has primacy over national law, incl. constitutional provisions," and "all rulings by [the ECJ] are binding on all Member States' authorities, incl. national courts."

The implication of the Commission's Tweet is as clear as it is frightening; namely that the constitutional foundations of EU member states can be rendered worthless should Brussels so decide, and that thecourts tasked with interpreting and defending them can be cast aside at the whim of the ECJ. It is a timely reminder that the EU does not exist to serve the nations of Europe and promote the prosperity of 27 sovereign partners, but to corral them in the direction of a European Superstate and centralise power in its own supranational (or perhaps it would be better to say 'post-national') institutions. Put simply, this means that no country can ever be independent, sovereign, or even fully-democratic, while a member of bloc.

Predictably, the Foreign Ministers of France and Germany rushed to defend the EU's position, issuing a joint statement insisting that Poland has a moral and legal duty to respect the bloc's rules.** Strongly worded as it was, the intervention is unlikely to cause much consternation in Warsaw - partly because the Polish Government is in no mood to take lectures on morality from Western European politicians, but primarily because Germany's hegemony at the European level looks to be over. Merkel will soon leave the Chancellery for the final time and until then her government is acting in a caretaker capacity in the wake of indecisive elections last month. It will be replaced by a weak, three-way coalition sooner or later and the next Chancellor is condemned to spend much of his time quelling internal arguments between coalition partners and jumping through hoops to keep his ramshackle government together. He won't have much time to worry about Poland.

Officials in Warsaw might be more concerned about how the EU as an organisation will react to what, in its view, is a judicial provocation. Poland has traditionally been a net recipient of EU funds, which means Brussels has long been able to leverage the threat of losing financial support. This has often been effective, but there are signs that Poland is prepared to explore other methods of raising capital. In a recent Politico article, an official was quoted as follows***:

"The Polish economy is rebounding well so funds from the EU are not critical and can be replaced by funds from capital markets."

Reducing reliance on EU funds would mark a profound shift in relations between Warsaw and Brussels - significantly reducing the financial (and therefore political) leverage of the latter. Even if the European Union chooses not to exercise the 'nuclear option' in response to Thursday's ruling, diversifying capital streams would be a wise insurance policy - one which would pre-empt attempts by Brussels to blackmail the Polish Government into conformity. Perhaps more importantly, it would demonstrate to the Polish electorate that, far from being reliant upon the continued "generosity" of the EU, their country is capable of striking out independently and standing on its own two feet.

While Poland is unlikely to leave the European Union in the short-term (public and parliamentary majorities support continued membership and 'Polexit' simply isn't financially viable until the country becomes a net contributor, or the government seriously pursues alternative capital streams), Brussels and Warsaw are nevertheless on divergent paths. The uneasy truce between the two is unsustainable in the medium-to-long term and Thursday's ruling is simply the latest salvo in a conflict which has been rumbling for years. It is a conflict which is not limited to Poland's place in the "European family of nations", or even to judicial reform. It is, fundamentally, a clash of world views. From immigration to family values and gay marriage to abortion, Poland and the EU are at odds, and will remain so. What happens next is anyone's guess.




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