EU asks Poland to stop court review of EU vs. Polish law

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The European Union said Thursday it has asked Poland’s government to withdraw a motion asking the nation’s constitutional court to rule on whether EU or Polish law has primacy in the central European nation.

The Polish justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, shot back that it took “insolence” for the EU to try to tell Poland what to do “in connection with the operation of an independent Polish constitutional court.”

A spokesman for the European Commission, the executive arm of the 27-member bloc, said the request was made in a letter sent to the Polish government on Wednesday by Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki asked for the review in March after the Court of Justice of the EU ruled that EU law takes precedence over the Polish Constitution. That came amid a larger dispute over changes to the Polish judicial system, initiated by the governing Law and Justice party, which the EU views as an assault on judicial independence.

Ziobro said it is “the Polish constitution that decides that the application may be submitted to the Constitutional Tribunal.”

“No state or any external organization can forbid the Polish prime minister to ask a constitutional court to resolve an issue that raises doubts from the point of view of the Polish constitution,” Ziobro said.

The judges on Poland’s constitutional court were mostly picked by the nationalist conservative governing party. A key judge examining the case is Krystyna Pawlowicz, a former hard-line member of parliament who disdains the bloc and has called the EU flag a “rag.” The Polish government spokesman has said he expects the court to rule that Polish law has primacy.

The court has not issued a decision yet. But a ruling giving primacy to Polish law would be expected to further exacerbate the difficult relationship between Warsaw and Brussels, where many believe that Polish government has been eroding democratic values.

In Poland, critics of the government fear that such a ruling would lead to Poland being eventually forced to leave the EU if the country rejects its laws and values. Poland’s joining the EU in 2004 was seen as a key step in the ex-communist country’s inclusion in democratic Western institutions.

EU officials believe similar backsliding has occurred in Hungary.

Countries that join the EU are supposed to bring their laws and regulations in line with other member nations’ in areas ranging from competition and trade to justice and corruption, among many others.

Commission spokesman Christian Wigand said at a briefing in Brussels Thursday that the Commission is concerned about the motion “as it contests fundamental principles of EU law, in particular the primacy of EU law.”

“All judgments of the European Court of Justice are binding on member states’ authorities, including national courts. The Commission therefore requests the withdrawal of the motion of the prime minister with the constitutional tribunal,” Wigand said.

He said that Poland has one month to reply to the letter.

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