Court Rules That EU Laws Clash With Polish Constitution

WARSAW, Poland (AP) -
Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal is seen in Warsaw, Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Poland’s constitutional court has ruled that some European Union laws are in conflict with Poland’s Constitution.

The Constitutional Tribunal ruled Thursday that some provisions of the EU treaties and some EU court rulings go against Poland’s highest law. Two of the 14 judges who considered the case dissented from the majority opinion.

The decision is expected to define the future of Poland’s already troubled relationship with the 27-member bloc, which has criticized the right-wing Polish government’s attempts to exert more influence over the judiciary.

But the tribunal majority said 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.

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 European Court of Justice sometimes conflict with Poland’s legal order.

Representatives of the country’s human rights commissioner argued Thursday before the decision was issued that Poland agreed to respect the EU legal order when it joined the bloc in 2004. They said questioning that order would lower the legal protection standards for people in Poland.

“It’s a confederation of anti-democratic forces against Poland’s membership in the European Union,” Michal Wawrykiewicz, a pro-EU lawyer who is critical of the government, tweeted. He called it a “black day” in Poland’s history.

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.

But a deputy foreign minister, Pawel Jablonski, insisted that a ruling giving primacy to Poland’s Constitution would not go against the EU membership treaties. He said that it would instead give them a new definition in a situation where, he said, top courts in many member countries have not followed European Court of Justice’s rulings

The tribunal opened the case in July on a motion 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 right-wing government.

The European Court of Justice’s decision came amid a larger dispute over deep changes the governing Law and Justice party 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.

In Thursday’s ruling, the tribunal said that the constitution is the supreme law in Poland and every international agreement or treaty, being lower in rank, must respect that supreme law.