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'Polexit' fears amid row over whether EU or Polish law reigns supreme

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By Euronews  with AFP, AP
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Poland's Constitutional Tribunal is at the centre of the country's conflict over rule of law with the European Union.
Poland's Constitutional Tribunal is at the centre of the country's conflict over rule of law with the European Union.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, FILE

Poland's constitutional court ruled on Wednesday that temporary injunctions issued by the European Union’s top court regarding the country's judiciary conflict with the nation’s constitution and are not binding.

Legal observers interpreted the decision from Poland's Constitutional Tribunal as a move by Poland's right-wing government to undermine the power of EU laws within the country and even a step away from the 27-nation bloc.

The European Commission said it is "concerned" by the latest ruling, insisting EU law had primacy over Polish law.

Poland joined the EU in 2004, agreeing to abide by its rules and laws. But Warsaw has been locked in a dispute with the bloc's other members over the controversial judicial reforms.

In February 2020, Poland passed new measures which prevented judges from referring certain legal issues to the European Court of Justice.

The country also created a "disciplinary chamber" that would rule on the independence of Polish judges and could lift their immunity to face criminal prosecutions.

The ruling conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) say the reforms are necessary to fight corruption, but EU critics see them as a threat to the rule of law.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has referred the case to Poland's Constitutional Court and says reforms in Poland are an internal matter.

The Constitutional Court is expected to rule soon on whether EU law takes primacy over Poland’s Constitution. The decision Wednesday was seen as an indication of how the tribunal's judges might rule.

If the court rules against the Polish government, the EU Court of Justice will be able to force the country to suspend part of its judicial reforms. The opposite will mean Poland can either amend its Constitution, seek to amend EU law or even withdraw from the bloc.

Dutch MEP Jeroen Lenaers said after Wednesday's ruling from Poland's top court that "the refusal to implement rulings of the European Court of Justice in Poland is a clear step towards taking Poland out of the European Union."

“We fear that the Polish government is on the path to Polexit,” he added.

Lauren Pech, a professor of European law at Middlesex University, reacted to the ruling on Twitter, writing "Polexit from EU legal order it is then."

He said the EU Commission "better immediately request daily financial sanctions" as well as the "suspension of EU funding based on Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation."

Former Polish Prime Minister and EU Council President Donald Tusk wrote that "it is not Poland, but Kaczynski and his party leaving the EU."

"Only we, Poles, can successfully oppose it. Because, contrary to the PiS propaganda, no one in the Union is forcibly holding back anyone, " he added.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the European Commission said the ruling on the validity of ECJ's interim measures "reaffirms our concerns about the state of the rule of law in Poland."

"The Commission has always been very clear on this matter and reaffirms once more: EU law has primacy over national law; all decisions by the European Court of Justice, including orders for interim measures, are binding on all Member states' authorities and national courts," it added.

It stressed that it expects Poland to ensure that all ECJ decisions are "fully and correctly implemented" and warned that it "will not hesitate to make use of its powers under the Treaties to safeguard the uniform application and integrity of Union law."

But Poland's justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, who is behind the controversial changes to the justice system, praised the ruling saying it defends Poland's constitutional order “against the lawless interference and aggression of the law coming from European bodies.”