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"Polexit" by mistake? Constitutional Court puts Polish over EU law - harsh reactions from Brussels

After Poland's constitutional court certified that the European Union had exceeded its powers, the conflict between Warsaw and Brussels came to a head.

On October 7, the Polish constitutional judges ruled that EU law is not in principle above the law of the country. In their judgment, the judges assessed the “attempt by the European Court of Justice to interfere in the Polish judicial system” as a violation of the rule of primacy of the constitution and of sovereignty, which is also preserved in the process of European integration. In Brussels, the reactions to the judgment were sometimes drastic. The Vice President of the EU Parliament, Katarina Barley, threatened Poland with financial consequences.

Barley threatens consequences
Barley said the European Commission should "not let this dam break pass". The Commission should "not give any European Corona billions to Warsaw and must also block other funding," said the SPD politician. Warnings can be heard that the “Polexit” began with the judgment of the Polish constitutional judges, just as often as calls for sanctions. At least officially, neither Brussels nor Warsaw are seeking to leave the country.

After the verdict, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on Facebook: “Poland’s place is and will remain in the European family of peoples.” Previously, the chairman of the ruling PiS party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, assured that his party clearly sees Poland’s future in the EU: “It will do not give a Polexit ”, said Kaczynski before the judgment.

In fact, the ruling party PiS would have to fear a drastic drop in approval for the plan to purposefully lead Poland out of the EU. At over 80 percent, the approval of Poles for the EU is higher than in almost any other country. Indeed, since joining the EU, the Poles have benefited greatly from payments from Brussels' financial pots. The country is by far the largest net recipient of EU funds. Since joining in May 2004 until 2020, a total of 127 billion euros from the EU budget has flowed to Poland. The flow of money plays a major role in the fact that the average income in Poland has now risen to 75 percent of the EU average. From the EU's reconstruction fund alone, a further 57 billion euros could flow to Warsaw in addition to agricultural and subsidy funds.

In the dispute over declarations by Polish municipalities and regions directed against LGBT ideology, the EU Commission tied the disbursement of funds from the reconstruction fund to conditions and put some disbursements on hold. Demands like Barley's to tighten the thumbscrews financially in Poland could develop a momentum of their own, which ultimately leads to a Polexit or a political paralysis of the EU.

Poland's approval in the EU Council required
As can be seen particularly in the Balkans, powerful donors are trying to gain influence over the EU. It is difficult to imagine that Poland will turn to Russia. It could look different if China's leadership makes advances to Warsaw. The EU Commission and the part of the MEPs who are pushing for a tough stance must also be concerned that the EU Council will continue to make decisions in the future that require unanimity and thus also the consent of Poland.

In terms of domestic politics, too, massive financial pressure on Poland could have an effect that Brussels actually did not intend. The desire for financial punishment and subordination of Poland could namely develop a mood of defiance in the country, which could be quickly picked up by politicians such as Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro (“Solidarity Poland”). The EU Commission itself has provided arguments for a campaign critical of the EU several times in recent years. For example, by simply allowing rule violations to go through in some countries and not punishing them. When France and Italy violated the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact with their draft budgets in 2014, the then Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker decided not to sanction this: “The countries don't like the lessons that come from Brussels”, said the Luxembourger.

The feeling of being a citizen of a second-class country within the EU, but even more the impression of being once again controlled by others as a nation, could still hit a very sensitive nerve with many Poles.

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