The president of the European Commission and the Polish prime minister have exchanged strong remarks during a debate in the European Parliament today on the rule of law in Poland.
The recent constitutional court ruling on the incompatibility of EU treaties with Polish law will “have serious consequences for the Polish people”, warned Ursula von der Leyen. “We cannot remain silent while our country is attacked in an unfair and biased manner,” responded Mateusz Morawiecki.
The @EU_Commission is carefully assessing the recent ruling of the Polish Constitutional Court
But I can already say: I am deeply concerned.
This ruling calls into question the foundations of the EU.
It is a direct challenge to the unity of the European legal order. pic.twitter.com/Qe1nxMDiXQ
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) October 19, 2021
Their remarks came during a parliamentary session on “the rule of law crisis in Poland and the primacy of EU law” that was called in response to the recent developments, and in particular this month’s Constitutional Tribunal ruling.
Brussels has expressed concern that it will undermine the European legal order. Reports indicate that the European Commission is unwilling to release billions of euros in Covid recovery funds to Poland until there are guarantees that EU law will be respected in the country.
“This is the first time ever that a court of a member state finds that the EU treaties are incompatible with the national constitution,” said von der Leyen, who was one of the first to speak. “If European law is applied differently in Göttingen or Gdańsk, EU citizens would not be able to rely on the same rights everywhere.”
“We cannot and we will not allow our common values to be put at risk,” continued the commission president. She warned that “the commission will act” and noted that one option is “the conditionality mechanism and other financial tools” – meaning blocking EU funds.
Von der Leyen made clear, however, that she “wants a strong Poland in a united Europe”. Her speech was punctuated with references to Poland’s historical struggle to join the democratic world, citing the efforts of Solidarity and Lech Wałęsa, Pope John Paul II, and President Lech Kaczyński.
The commission president finished her remarks by declaring in Polish: Niech żyje Polska! Niech żyje Europa! (Long live Poland! Long live Europe!).
Prime Minister Morawiecki then took to the podium. He began by outlining the various challenges Europe is facing: “social inequalities, inflation, internal threats, growing public debt and the energy crisis.” These can only be solved by working together, he emphasised.
“My government is part of the pro-European majority in Poland,” declared Morawiecki, whose party has denied opposition claims that it wants “Polexit” from the EU. “This is our place, we are not going anywhere.”
But, the prime minister continued, Poland has been “unfairly attacked”, with “many citizens asking whether different judgements against different member states really mean equality”. He also accused some in the EU of “using the language of financial blackmail” against Poland.
— Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland (@PremierRP_en) October 19, 2021
Referring more directly to the recent constitutional court ruling, Morawiecki said he accepts that “EU law is above national law in the areas of powers granted to the EU. But the [national] constitution remains the highest law”.
“The EU will not fall apart because systems differ from each other,” he continued, quoted by Wirtualna Polska, adding that “Poland fully respects the [EU] treaties”.
As the debate continued, Poland’s government faced criticism from the representatives of the European Parliament’s largest groups, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D).
We're standing up for Polish people who want to be a part of the EU family and who fight to defending the rule of law in Poland from PiS' attacks.
Today in front of PM Morawiecki, our members are taking a stand in #EPlenary.
— S&D Group (@TheProgressives) October 19, 2021
“You are causing confusion and division,” Manfred Weber, head of the EPP, told Morawiecki, quoted by Wirtualna Polska. “You are weakening the European Union, this policy is helping the Russians, Vladimir Putin. Stop it.”
“I remember the day Poland joined the EU,” said Ska Keller of the Greens. “It was such a happy day. Today I watch with pain how your government is threatening the unity that we celebrated together. You are leading your country on a dangerous path.”
In response, Ryszard Legutko, an MEP from Poland’s ruling party, condemned the European Parliament for “waging a war against conservative governments”, reports the Polish Press Agency (PAP). It is EU institutions, not Poland, who are “violating the fundamental principles of the treaties”, he declared.
Tomasz correctly points out that instead of asking about the implementation of July CJEU ruling and interim order and about the situation of Polish judges, MEPS got drawn into discussion on primacy and pluralism – academically contestable areas instead of clear cut ones. (1/2) https://t.co/3BY1H0F6gL
— Jakub Jaraczewski (@J_Jaraczewski) October 19, 2021
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.