WARSAW (Reuters) -Some articles in European Union treaties are unconstitutional in Poland, the country’s highest court ruled on Thursday, challenging a key tenet of European integration and deepening a heated dispute between Brussels and Warsaw’s nationalist rulers.
The Law and Justice (PiS) party government is embroiled in a series of politically charged rows with the EU on issues ranging from the independence of courts and media freedoms to LGBT rights.
Thursday’s case was taken under consideration by the Constitutional Tribunal after Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki asked it whether EU institutions could stop Poland from reorganising its judiciary.
“The EU Treaty is subordinate to the constitution in the Polish legal system, (…) and, like any part of the Polish legal system, it must comply with the constitution,” judge Bartlomiej Sochanski said.
Brussels accuses the PiS government of undermining judicial independence during sweeping reforms the party says aim to make the courts more efficient and rid them of the last vestiges of Communist-era influence.
“In Poland the highest legal act is the constitution and all European regulations that are in force in Poland…must comply with the constitution,” PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said after the verdict was announced.
“This also applies to the judiciary and the European Union has nothing to say here,” he told reporters.
POLAND’S PLACE IN EU AT STAKE?
Critics say that by challenging the supremacy of EU law, the PiS government not only jeopardises Poland’s long-term future in the 27-nation bloc but also the stability of the EU itself.
PiS denies this and says it has no plans for a “Polexit”. It also denies having any influence over court decisions.
In its ruling, the Constitutional Tribunal also said it has a right not only to check the constitutionality of EU law but also the rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
It said that if the CJEU did not stop questioning the tribunal’s decisions and the status of its judges, it did not “exclude exercising its rights and examining the compliance of CJEU rulings with the constitution, including (the possibility) of removing them from the Polish legal system”.
The European Commission, the EU executive’s body, had no immediate comment.
“It’s hard to believe the Polish authorities and the PiS party when they claim that they don’t want to put an end to Poland’s membership of the EU,” said Jeroen Lenaers, a member of the European Parliament and spokesman for the centre-right European People’s Party Group for Justice and Home Affairs.
“The Polish government has lost its credibility. This is an attack on the EU as a whole,” he said in a statement.
The Tribunal started hearing the case in July but had adjourned it four times before Thursday’s sitting.
Some critics say the delays may have been aimed at putting pressure on Brussels to accept Warsaw’s National Recovery Plan, an aid programme aimed at helping EU economies shake off the impact of the coronavirus pandemic but whose funding is linked to compliance with EU rule of law and democracy standards.
(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Alan Charlish, Pawel Florkiewicz and Justyna Pawlak in Warsaw; Jan Strupczewski in BrusselsEditing by Mark Heinrich)