The Constitutional Tribunal, Poland’s highest court, has asserted that its rulings based on the Polish Constitution have priority over the European Union’s laws and judgements. Poland’s nationalist right-wing courts clashed with the European Union’s stances on several major issues, including the freedom of the media, rights of marginalized communities such as queer populations, and its courts’ independence from EU control.
With the Constitutional Tribunal ruling, the Polish government signals unequivocally that the EU does not have the authority to regulate national legal systems, citing a ruling from the German Constitutional Court which concluded that the EU had overreached its legal predominance.
The Polish government is hardly alone in its complaints. The European nation has also found an ally in Hungary, whose nationalist government has posed similar challenges to EU law.
To respond to these challenges from Poland and Hungary, one of the European Union’s most powerful tools is the ability to intensify financial pressures through budget-related punishments, including withholding or freezing the transfer of funds related to pandemic relief.
Poland’s challenges to the primacy of EU laws posed major questions about national sovereignty within the European Union. Some consider the challenges to be direct threats to the existence and survival of the European Union, for the international governing body depends on the concept of shared sovereignty. As a member state, Poland has an obligation to give up some of their sovereignty to collectively address larger issues; the Constitutional Tribunal ruling questions just that.
The European Union has shown no signs of backing down; in the wake of Poland’s challenges, the European Court will continue to evaluate and enforce legal challenges to the primacy of European Union law. Disciplinary responses towards Poland will likely include fines and other financial and budget-related pressures. The European Union hopes that such responses may incentivize a more democratic Polish government, since Poland’s current nationalist Law and Justice administration has frequently clashed with the international governing body to which it belongs.
Indeed, the Constitutional Tribunal ruling may signal shifts in domestic politics, too. Since the majority of the Polish population is against an exit from the European Union, voters may be more inclined to opt for new national leaders following the diplomatic defiance signaled by the recent ruling.
By: Rhine Peng