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Polish leader accuses EU judges of activism and ‘creeping revolution’

Poland's prime minister hit back at the European Union as his country comes under increasing pressure due to his government's refusal to abide by rulings from the European Court of Justice and its declaration that Poland's constitution is superior to EU law.

(CN) — Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Tuesday escalated a conflict between his right-wing nationalist government and the European Union by accusing the bloc's leaders of “blackmail” and its courts of a “creeping revolution” by expanding the EU's supranational powers.

Morawiecki delivered his fierce attack before the European Parliament amid an ugly constitutional and political conflict between Poland's ultranationalist government and the EU.

His speech came as the European Parliament takes up a contentious and high-stakes debate on what actions should be taken against Poland for its refusal to abide by rulings issued by the European Court of Justice, the EU's top court.

At Tuesday's parliamentary session, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned that Poland's actions were “a direct challenge to the unity of the European legal order.”

In many ways, this European fight is akin to American legal battles over where to set the boundaries between federal and state powers. As in the United States, generally those favoring more state – in the case of the EU, national – power tend to be conservatives while those who support extending the reach of EU powers often espouse liberal causes.

The fight can be seen as an extension of the battles and debates that surrounded Brexit and there are fears that Poland may be drifting towards its own exit from the EU. But that remains highly unlikely and polls show a majority of Poles favor remaining within the bloc. Despite his criticism of the EU, Morawiecki too said Poland doesn't “want to leave Europe.”

Nonetheless, this clash between Poland and the EU is rattling the bloc and exposing deep political and historical divisions. By attacking Poland, a country that suffered tremendously under Nazi and Soviet rule, EU leaders risk alienating a large and economically important country whose democratic movement was pivotal in the downfall of the Soviet Union and who is a key buffer against Russia.

“What we are seeing now is a creeping revolution taking place by way of verdicts of the European Court of Justice,” Morawiecki said. “If you want a supranational state in Europe, why don't you first ask and get consent from all the sovereign member states?”

Earlier this month, Poland's Constitutional Tribunal threw the bloc into a legal crisis when it declared that the Polish constitution is superior to EU laws. The Polish constitutional court rebuffed rulings by the European Court of Justice that found Poland had unlawfully sought to remove judges as part of a package of judicial reforms. These reforms are the conflict's central battleground.

Von der Leyen called the Warsaw court's judgment a major threat, noting that EU courts have called into question the constitutional court's own independence from political interference. Critics say the Warsaw court's rulings cannot be viewed as valid because the ruling Law and Justice party has packed it with allies.

“This ruling calls into question the foundations of the European Union,” she said. “Only a common legal order provides equal rights, legal certainty, mutual trust between member states and therefore common policies.”

She said it was “the first time ever that a court of a member state finds that the EU treaties are incompatible with a national constitution.”

“The rule of law is the glue that binds our union together,” she said. “It is the foundation of our unity. It is essential for the protection of the values on which our union is founded: democracy, freedom, equality and respect for human rights.”

Morawiecki defended the Constitutional Tribunal's ruling, saying that Poland only granted specific and limited powers to the EU when it agreed to join the union in 2004. Poland argues that the EU's founding treaties do not allow the EU courts to dictate how it runs its courts. Poland also argues that it is being unfairly criticized for judicial practices that are commonplace elsewhere in Europe, such as the involvement of politicians in selecting judges for the bench.


“Let me repeat, the highest law of the Republic of Poland is the constitution,” the prime minister said. “It stands above any other sources of law; this principle will be defended by the Polish parliament and government.”

EU leaders, many legal scholars and government critics in Poland accuse Morawiecki and his Law and Justice party of creating an authoritarian state where democratic principles are under attack. These critics accuse Law and Justice of illegally packing Polish courts with allies, targeting homosexuals, outlawing abortion and stifling free speech.

Morawiecki took aim at Poland's critics, many of whom were seated in the European Parliament, which is meeting in a plenary session in Strasbourg, France.

“These lectures that we keep hearing are quite paternalistic,” he said. “We must act together and not name and shame; we must not point fingers at those who can be easily blamed.”

He also blasted efforts by EU leaders to withhold billions of dollars of coronavirus aid from Poland unless it abides by the Court of Justice's rulings against its judicial reforms.

“I reject the language of threats,” he said. “I will not have you politicians blackmail Poland. Blackmail must not be a method of policy conducted vis-a-vis a certain member state.”

His speech was hailed by fellow nationalists, who are a minority in the EU parliament, and lambasted by the biggest parliamentary groups – mainstream conservatives, socialists, greens and liberals.

Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People's Party, the mainstream conservatives and the largest parliamentary group, blasted Morawiecki for “sowing discord” and strengthening the hand of the EU's enemies, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I say to you prime minister that you are actually sowing discord in the European Union with this speech you have given today,” Weber said. “You are making Europe weaker and there are those who will welcome this, above all Vladimir Putin.”

Weber praised Polish protesters who have filled Warsaw's streets in recent months to oppose the rightward turn of Poland under the Law and Justice.

“The genuine patriots were out in the street with the Polish flags – proud of these flags – and proud of the European flags they held in the other hand,” he said. “Patriotism is not a nationalist, and must not be a nationalist; he should be, if he is a genuine patriot, a convinced European.”

Iratxe Garcia Perez, the parliamentary leader of the Socialists & Democrats, the second largest group, said Poland must be punished for its actions.

“Governments such as yours have taken a path towards totalitarianism and regression,” she said.

The Polish prime minister won support from two parliamentary groups on the right generally opposed to the expanding power of Brussels.

“Why is there this panic from the federalists? Quite simply, the Polish constitutional court has put the EU in its place,” said Nicolas Bay, a leader with the far-right Identity and Democracy group. “It's reminded it that the EU is made up of countries who consent freely to this common project.”

He said the attacks on Poland have more to do with the country's political stances.

“We know the real reasons,” he said. “You are not accepting migration; you are not accepting European federalism, which is trying to creep into all national policies from education to health.”

Ryszard Antoni Legutko, a Polish politician and a leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists, another right-wing group in parliament opposed to EU federalism, called the anti-Polish drive “tyranny of the majority.”

He said the EU parliament and institutions have been run by the same political groups for decades and that they “managed to establish a tyranny of the majority that controls everything” and that it is now engaged in a “Cold War against conservative governments.”

“The newest gizmo is the primacy of the EU law,” he said. “There is not a word about it in the treaties … This is a very dangerous concept, extremely dangerous, because it gives the EU omnipotence, and omniscience, it does not have, it cannot have, and to be frank it does not deserve.”

Turning to Von der Leyen, he said: “You see, madam president, we are not afraid of European law, we are afraid of European lawlessness, of the tyranny of the majority, of an abuse of power, of the cavalier use of the treaties.”

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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