Polish court rules that the supremacy of EU law is incompatible with nation’s constitution

A Polish court has ruled that placing EU law over the country’s domestic law is unconstitutional, a verdict that could have serious repercussions for Poland’s position within the EU.

The landmark ruling was the culmination of months of speculation over a case submitted by Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who disputed an earlier EU decision that the bloc’s law should take precedence over national laws.

The head of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal said that the operation of EU bodies “outside the limits of the powers conferred by the Republic of Poland, meaning the Constitution of Poland is not the highest law of the Republic of Poland, and resulting in the Republic of Poland being unable to function as a sovereign and democratic state, is inconsistent with the Polish Constitution.”

The verdict is a slap in the face for Brussels at a time when tensions are high over EU attempts to put a stop to Polish legal reforms, which opponents say threaten the independence of the country’s judiciary.

Yet the verdict claimed the form of the country’s judiciary is the prerogative of the Polish authorities, responsibility for which can never be transferred to EU bodies.

A majority of 12 out of the Tribunal’s 14 judges agreed that Poland’s membership of the EU should not give EU courts supreme legal authority over the country.

This means Poland’s United Right government, led by the Law and Justice (PiS) party, can now claim legal justification for controversial reforms which include the establishment of a Disciplinary Chamber for judges which the EU says gives the Polish government undue influence over the country’s judiciary.

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The EU is unlikely to back down over the Polish government’s reforms. Only this week, the vice president of the European Court of Justice reaffirmed the court’s opposition to the Polish Disciplinary Chamber.

She also underlined the bloc’s stance that “the principle of the primacy of EU law establishes the primacy of EU law over the law of member states.”

The verdict of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal explicitly contradicts this fundamental principle of EU membership, meaning a stalemate has now been reached where neither side recognises the supremacy of the other.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the EU considers Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal itself to be illegitimate, due to the influence of the government in the appointment of its judges.

The court’s verdict has been delayed several times in recent months, with pro-democracy activists undertaking acts of civil disobedience to protest against the case. But now the ruling has led to celebration among government figures who have characterised the country’s legal battle with the EU as a struggle against foreign oppression.

“Poland has won,” crowed one minister. PiS chief Jaroslaw Kaczyński meanwhile declared that placing EU law above Polish law would mean Poland “is not a sovereign state and, therefore, that there is no democracy in Poland.”

Opposition politicians decried the decision, with one saying the Constitutional Tribunal “will write us out of the EU, by the will of PiS and Kaczyński.

Attention will now turn to the EU’s response to the ruling. The reaction of Brussels to the Polish court’s decision may prove pivotal in determining whether or not the ever-growing gulf in perceptions of Poland’s legal status within the bloc has finally become unbridgeable.

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