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Taoiseach says Poland’s challenge of EU’s legal foundations went ‘too far’

Several EU officials insisted that there would be no ganging-up against Poland.

LAST UPDATE | 21 Oct 2021

POLAND’S CHALLENGE OF the EU’s legal foundations has gone “too far” and the consequences are “far-reaching”, Micheál Martin has said.

The Taoiseach said that issues arising from the recent ruling from Poland’s constitutional court challenging the supremacy of EU laws need to be dealt with.

Martin made the comments as he attends a two-day EU summit in Brussels where EU politicians debated the rule-of-law principles.

“I do believe Poland has gone too far… I think there’s a certain sense of choreography here,” Martin said.

“We take that issue very seriously, it’s not just the legal issue, it’s the political issue.”

A tribunal ruled earlier this month that Polish laws take precedence over those of the bloc’s 27 nations.

Martin said that Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki was “doubling down” on the ruling.

He said the challenge was a “slap in the face” to countries that supported the Covid-19 funding Poland will benefit from.

“For us in Ireland, I think there has to be a very clear assertion of the principles of how Europe works in terms of the primacy of European Union law in respect of protecting the rights of citizens,” he added.

“I mean that’s what it’s about, it’s about protecting the rights of citizens across Europe.

“That’s the context, but also it seems the judicial decision was sought by the prime minister, and it’s in the context of a lack of confidence and the independence of the judiciary within Poland, given appointments in recent years.

The issues are serious, and I think there will be a desire on behalf of a number of member states, not just to have discussion but to get a process in place because this issue resolved.
In our view, the Polish judicial decision is very far reaching and doesn’t compare in any shape or form with any previous decisions by national courts, either in breadth or in content.

“We’ve all signed up to this as EU Member States in terms of the competence of the Court of Justice.

“I would find that as a country, as a net contributor, we contributed substantially to the recovery and resilience fund, which is a breakthrough decision by the European Union.

“Many reluctant states heretofore would never have signed up for that did sign up for it, and it really is a slap in the face to those countries.”

On the first day of the Summit, the Taoiseach met the prime ministers of the Nord-Baltic states.

These included Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

Martin told political leaders that Ireland shares the same values on many issues including climate change and the digital economy.

Leaders also held a session on energy prices during which Martin outlined measures Ireland has taken to support low-income groups from the effects of rising energy prices.

He outlined the fuel allowance as well as plans to increase energy efficiency, such as retrofitting.

The explosive EU row with Poland over its rejection of some of the bloc’s laws was set to overshadow the two-day summit of European Union leaders starting today.

The issue eclipsed the original theme for the Brussels gathering: examining how Europe can cope with the global energy crunch while sticking by ambitious green policies it will brandish at the COP26 climate summit in two weeks’ time.

The high stakes involved were on display earlier this week when EU chief Ursula von der Leyen and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki duelled fiercely at a podium in the European Parliament.

Von der Leyen warned her European Commission would use “all instruments at our disposal” to rein in Warsaw, while Mateusz shot back: “I will not have EU politicians blackmail Poland.”

EU officials and diplomats said that the matter would now be discussed at the summit, alongside energy, Covid-19, Europe’s transition to a digital and low-carbon future, migration, trade and external relations.

Several EU officials insisted that there would be no ganging-up against Poland.

A German government official in Berlin said that dialogue would be prioritised because “it’s not about making this summit a confrontation”.

Germany and France were wary about the summit being bogged down in an intractable debate.

An official in the French presidency stressed, however, that Paris is in no way opposed to the issue being openly discussed, adding: “We have always been at the forefront on (defending) rule of law.”

Judges’ independence

Some EU officials said the real issue was that Poland had undertaken judicial reforms seen as removing independent judges and replacing them with ones beholden to the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS).

A 7 October ruling by Poland’s Constitutional Court saying EU law could only apply in specific, circumscribed areas and Polish law trumped it in all other matters was being used to defend a dismantling of democracy, they said.

Morawiecki has dug in by saying he believes Brussels is guilty of overstepping its authority, using the row as a “pretext” to force member states into line towards a more federal Europe.

He has rejected assertions by lawmakers in the European Parliament that his government’s stance could lead to Poland’s exit from the EU – dubbed “Polexit”.

The speaker of the parliament, David Sassoli, yesterday asked his legal service to prepare to sue the Commission unless it quickly uses a “conditionality” mechanism created late last year tying disbursements from the EU budget to adherence to rule of law.

But the Commission will not be rushed. It is meticulously gathering evidence in case the dispute ends up in the European Court of Justice (ECJ), where it has a high bar of burden of proof to show the EU budget was affected.

The ECJ is already weighing the legality of the conditionality mechanism itself. A reasoned opinion followed by the court’s verdict is expected later this year or early 2022.

The legal challenge was launched by Poland and its close ally Hungary – another EU country where Brussels says democracy and rule of law are under threat. Budapest and Warsaw have a pact to use their vetoes to shield the other from any attempt to punish them.

In the meantime, the Commission is blocking approval on Poland’s request for €36 billion in grants and loans from the EU’s pandemic recovery fund.

The official at the French presidency said: “I don’t see how we can validate their recovery plan. This isn’t financial blackmail – it’s a response to fundamental principles, including judicial independence.”

With tensions rising, there are efforts for key individual EU leaders to hold bilateral talks with Morawiecki just before they all lay the issue on the summit table.

Asked whether von der Leyen might get some face time with the Polish prime minister, a Commission spokesman said she knew of “no meeting that has been prepared”.

© – AFP, 2021

- With reporting from PA

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