Poland’s constitutional court has ruled that some European Union laws are in conflict with the country’s constitution, in a serious challenge to a key tenet of European integration.
The constitutional tribunal ruled that some provisions of the EU treaties and some EU court rulings go against Poland’s highest law. Two judges dissented from the majority opinion.
The ruling will define the future of Poland’s already troubled relationship with the 27-member bloc in the key area of law and justice.
The nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government is involved in a series of disputes with the EU on issues ranging from courts and media freedom to LGBT rights. The case under consideration by the tribunal refers to changes that PiS made to the country’s judicial system.
“The primacy of constitutional law over other sources of law results directly from the Constitution of the Republic of Poland,” government spokesman Piotr Muller wrote on Twitter. “Today (once again) this has been clearly confirmed by the constitutional tribunal.”
Critics have warned that challenging the supremacy of EU law not only jeopardises Poland’s long-term future in the Union but also the stability of the bloc itself.
The court said the country’s EU membership and signing of the treaties were not tantamount to giving the EU courts supreme legal authority and did not mean that Poland was shifting its sovereignty to the EU.
The ruling followed months of court proceedings in which representatives of Poland’s government, president and parliament argued that Poland’s constitution comes before EU law and that rulings by the court of justice of the EU are sometimes in conflict with Poland’s legal order.
Poland’s government insists that the justice system and the judiciary are the sole purview of EU member nations and not the EU, and has ignored a number of the EU court’s rulings.
The court opened the case in July on a motion earlier this year from Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. He asked for the review after the EU court ruled that the bloc’s law takes precedence over Poland’s law. The verdict regarded the procedure of judicial appointments under Poland’s current government.
The EU court’s decision came amid a larger dispute over deep changes the PiS initiated to the Polish court system; the EU views the changes as an erosion of democratic checks and balances.
The European parliament adopted a resolution last month calling on Morawiecki to cancel the case, stressing the “fundamental nature of primacy of EU law as a cornerstone principle of EU law”.
Poland’s policies in the area of law and the judiciary have drawn out debates with the EU Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, over the payment of billions of euros to the country from the EU pandemic recovery fund.
The constitutional tribunal itself is seen by the EU as illegitimate due to the political influence of Poland’s governing party on the appointment of some of its judges. Many of them are government loyalists — including the court’s president, Judge Julia Przylebska, who is heading the panel in the current case.