A Polexit in the Making?: Polish PM accuses EU of blackmail as rule of law row continues

October 26, 2021

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3 min read

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What's going on here?

The Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, has accused the EU of blackmail after it suggested that it may withhold EU funding and suspend some of Poland’s rights as a member state in response to a top Polish court’s judgment which supposedly goes against the rule of law.

What does this mean?

The rule of law is a core principle of the EU which can be best described as a “prerequisite” for the protection of other core values under the EU’s umbrella, hence why it is enshrined under Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union. Such a principle ensures judicial independence and that no citizen is above the law itself.  The clash between Poland and the EU stems from a controversial judgment made by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal earlier this month which stated that its “EU membership did not give EU courts supreme legal authority and did not mean that Poland had shifted its sovereignty to the EU”. 

Since then, the EU Commission, the executive arm of the EU,  has been determined to prevent Poland from continuing to undermine core tenets of the European Union. Head of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that the ruling “calls into question the foundations of the European Union…and is a direct challenge to the unity of the European legal order”. The amount of funding the EU is considering to withhold from Poland in response amounts to roughly £48bn. Mr Morawiecki responded strongly to this by affirming that “we will not act under pressure of blackmail”.

What's the big picture effect?

The EU and Poland have been at odds with one another for the past few years but in light of these recent developments and political stand offs the thought of a Polexit from the EU may have become more tangible than ever before. The dispute is currently overshadowing an EU summit where the rule of law is set to be on the agenda for Member State leaders to discuss. Many EU leaders have expressed varied opinions on the issue. Belgian Prime Minister, Alexander de Croo, said “if you want…the advantage of being in a club…then you need to respect the rules…you can’t be a member and say ‘the rules don’t apply to me’”. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a more balanced opinion, saying that while “the rule of law is a core aspect of the European Union…we have to find ways of coming back together because a cascade of EU cases is not a solution”. EU case law, which Mrs Merkel refers to, relies upon the principle that the EU has legal supremacy over national laws of member states.

Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban who is a staunch supporter of Poland’s case, said that “the primacy of EU law is not in the treaty at all”. Mr Orban’s argument is in reference to Annex 17 of the Lisbon Treaty which details primacy but is not technically within the treaty itself. Nonetheless, the Annex still affirms that “primacy of EU law is a cornerstone principle”. Both Hungary and Poland have previously been in the spotlight over rule of law issues, ranging from issues on LGBT rights and judicial independence. Click here to read one of our reports from 2020 on the EU challenging Hungary and Poland over potentially breaching the rule of law.

Nonetheless, the issue of a Polexit seems to remain a concern among the EU, with one diplomat supposedly claiming that the EU “could not survive another exit”. However, recent opinion polls suggest that Poles overwhelmingly support being part of the EU and the Polish Prime Minister has continuously played down a Polexit saying that “we should not be spreading lies about Polexit”. The bigger issue seems to be whether the EU can adequately uphold the rule of law while attempting to hold what some see as a fragile union together for the foreseeable future.

Report written by Dan Furniss

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