Poland’s top court ruled Thursday that its national laws can trump those of the European Union, intensifying a clash over democratic values and shaking the foundations of the 27-member bloc’s accepted legal order.
The Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw ruled that parts of EU law were not compatible with the country’s constitution.
They include an article that says that laws from Brussels have primacy over conflicting national legislation and another relating to the binding nature of decisions of the European Court of Justice.
Those principles are essential to how the union functions legally, and raises questions as to how Poland can continue to be part of it without upholding them.
“It’s at the core of the union,” said Didier Reynders, the European Union’s justice commissioner. He said the bloc would use “all the tools at our disposal” to enforce its fundamental principles, though did not give further details.
Brussels has so far held off delivering tens of billions of dollars in coronavirus relief funds earmarked for Poland and Hungary due to concerns about a slide from democracy. They include issues such the treatment of LGBTQ people to freedom of the press under the countries’ populist governments.
The ruling Thursday was the latest twist in a long-running dispute between Brussels and Warsaw over the independence of the country’s judiciary.
Brussels has raised questions about the legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal itself, as it has been stacked with party loyalists.
Its chair, Julia Przyłębska, is known to be close to Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the country’s ruling party, who has described their friendship and said he enjoys their social calls.
Poland’s justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, described the decision Thursday as “historic,” saying it set the “constitutional limits” of EU “interference” in Polish cases.
In the spring, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had asked the tribunal to assess whether the European Court of Justice was overreaching when it came to rulings that took aim at Poland’s legal reforms.
The decision had been delayed several times before being announced Thursday.
Amnesty International said the decision would challenge the EU’s ability to protect human rights and the rule of law withing its member states.
“This is another dark day for justice in Poland,” Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, said in a statement.
Others questioned Poland’s future within the European Union, even though membership is overwhelmingly supported among the population.
The move puts the country on the path to “Polexit,” said Jeroen Lenaers, justice spokesman for the largest political bloc in the European parliament, adding that it is hard to believe that the country’s leaders don’t want to leave the union.
“Their actions go in the opposite direction,” he said. “Enough is enough. The Polish government has lost its credibility. This is an attack on the EU as a whole.”
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The Washington Post’s Quentin Aries and Reis Thebault contributed from Brussels.