Just 17 years ago, when Poland and Hungary joined the EU, western imperialism was rubbing its collective hands with glee as what they perceived to be a noose, tightened around the neck of now capitalist, but still independent, Russia. The influence of even right wing eastern European states within the EU, however, has had a wonderfully destabilising effect upon that entity with the exasperation of imperialism summed up nicely by the executive director of Defend Democracy, Alice Stollmeyer, who has said; “The EU can only be as strong as it is united, and when it’s not, others rejoice, Putin must be watching with a box of popcorn.” For the record, Alice, we’re loving the spectacle as well! Oh, and by the way, if you’re wondering, ‘Defend Democracy’ is another of those Brussels-based non-profit outfits that have no responsibility or accountability to any voters within the EU but seem to have a lot of sway with the Pan-European ruling body that the EU sees itself as.
In July, the Commission started legal action against Poland and Hungary for what it has claimed is their disrespect for LGBTQ (etc.) rights, and both Hungary and Poland have differed openly with the rest of the EU over immigration issues in the past, but the latest bone of contention goes to the heart of the EU project, namely, whose laws will be considered supreme.
In a ruling on Thursday 7 October the Polish Constitutional Tribunal (CT) declared in Warsaw that the country’s EU membership did not give EU courts supreme legal authority and did not mean that Poland had shifted its sovereignty to the EU. They said no state authority in Poland would consent to an outside limitation of its powers while pointing out that “the constitution is the supreme law in Poland and every international agreement or treaty, being lower in rank, must respect that supreme law. The EU treaties are considered international agreements signed by nation-states”. This decision was made by a majority of the 14 strong Constitutional Tribunal with just two dissenting.
On Friday morning, following this announcement, there was fury in Brussels as European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, stated “EU citizens as well as companies doing business in Poland need the legal certainty that EU rules, including rulings of the European Court of Justice, are fully applied in Poland,” and she stressed the supremacy of EU law over any national law, “including constitutional provisions“. She also added in softer tones the motherly explanation that “Our utmost priority is to ensure that the rights of Polish citizens are protected and that Polish citizens enjoy the benefits granted by membership of the European Union, just like all citizens of our Union.”
Tweets of anger emanated from other EU leaders and parties, many calling for the cutting off of funding to Poland and/or forcing them out of the EU. However, the leaders of Lithuania and Hungary sided with Poland and in France, Eric Zemmour, a far-right politician and likely contender in the next presidential election, has called for support for Poland in its “fight for liberty.” Also, the European Conservatives & Reformists (ECR) group came out in defence of the Polish constitutional court stating, “The EU has no legal right to interfere in how judges are appointed in a democratic member state.”
Of course, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal didn’t just pull this ruling out of their hat because they were bored: Poland had set up the CT to chastise judges etc. who make rulings not in line with the Polish Constitution and/or government, and the EU had ordered that this body be closed down.
The EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders stated that: “all decisions by the EU’s Court of Justice are binding in all national courts and only the Luxembourg court has jurisdiction to determine if an act from another EU institution breaches EU law.” He added that the EU intends to act as the “guardian of the treaties” and use “all our tools at our disposal“, while David Sassoli, the President of the European Parliament, said: “by declaring that the EU Treaties are not compatible with Polish law, the illegitimate Constitutional Tribunal in Poland has put the country on the path to Polexit,”
Another commenter by tweet was Daniel Freund, a German member of the Greens, who warned; “Today’s ruling will be most painful for Polish citizens. They will have to bear the cost of frozen EU funds.” And so they went on, surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly at all, they were joined in their woeful dirge by Amnesty International who gravely declared that it was “another dark day for justice in Poland“.
The EU has never before seen a member state’s judicial system so openly defy the foundation of the bloc, leaving the EU with few options to react and correct the situation. Opening a new infringement procedure could prove futile since the last word of these punitive measures is decided by the European Court of Justice, and their competence is not now fully recognised by the Polish justice system.
It is most likely that there will be a behind-the-scenes large increase in the amounts of money that Poland receives, but even that will give a lesson to other nations within the EU that if you can cause a stink you will get increased funding and that may cause even more problems for the EU. Of course, it may well be that the many hints of a Polexit from leading members of the Polish ruling party are genuine and this issue isn’t about seeking financial leverage and may be fought to the bitter end.
In which case Hungary’s leader Mr Orban has also repeatedly insisted that “there is life outside the European Union” and just last month wrote in the Hungarian daily Magyar Nemzet, “it’s time to talk about Huxit.”
Neither country could stand alone in those circumstances but perhaps a close neighbour would assist them? All food for thought.