(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.