EU vows to face down challenge to legal order by Polish right-wing government

Polish ruling on reach of EU law risks ‘de-facto exit’ from bloc, French minister warns

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen said she would use all powers at her disposal to push back. Photograph: Igor Kupljenik/EPA

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen said she would use all powers at her disposal to push back. Photograph: Igor Kupljenik/EPA

 

The European Commission has vowed to use all powers at its disposal to face down an unprecedented challenge to the legal order of the European Union after Poland’s constitutional court rejected the supremacy of EU law.

In a case initiated by Poland’s right-wing government, the ruling asserted that EU institutions had overreached their power and that aspects of EU treaties are incompatible with the Polish constitution, undermining a foundational principle of the bloc.

It marked a dramatic escalation in a long-running dispute with Warsaw, which is determined to reject rulings by the European Court of Justice that have been critical of government reforms it suggests have politically stacked the courts and eroded judicial independence.

“It is very serious ... there is the risk of a de-facto exit” of Poland from the EU, France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune told a television interview.

“I do not want the exit of Poland,” he added. “This is an attack on the EU by a constitutional court that was modelled by the Polish government.”

A European Commission spokesman described it as an “unprecedented ruling and situation”, while in a statement the president of the executive, Ursula von der Leyen, said she would use all powers at her disposal to push back.

“EU law has primacy over national law, including constitutional provisions,” she said in a statement. “This is what all EU member states have signed up to as members of the European Union. We will use all the powers that we have under the Treaties to ensure this.”

Members of the European Parliament called for the commission to withhold cash payments from Poland to force its government to back down and use a new rule-of-law safeguard clause to freeze EU funds destined for the country.

The commission has said it will formulate its response after its legal services study the ruling. A spokesman said that the implications for whether Poland can receive the €57 billion it is due in Covid-19 stimulus funds, which have been held up due to concerns about the rule of law in the country, “depends” on the outcome of its assessment.

In a sign that the patience of some fellow member states has worn thin, Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas threw Berlin’s “full support” behind the commission in its task of ensuring the application of EU law throughout the single market.

Being a member “means adhering to common rules that form the foundation of the European Union,” Mr Maas said in a statement. “If a country takes a political decision to be part of the EU, it must also ensure that it implements the agreed rules in full.”