MEPs take Polish PM Marievsk to task over rule of law problems

In Strasbourg, MEPs and European Commission lead the charge against Polish constitutional court ruling on application of EU Treaty rules

Ursula von der Leyen accompanies Polish PM Mateuz Marievsk
Ursula von der Leyen accompanies Polish PM Mateuz Marievsk

A fiery debate in the Strasbourg parliament took place today between MEPs over action to be taken on Poland’s violation of the EU treaty.

On 7 October, the Polish constitutional tribunal ruled that articles 1 and 19 of the Treaty on European Union (TFEU) were incompatible with the Polish constitution. Article 1 sets the groundwork whereby member states confer powers to the Union in the interest of  “creating an ever closer union”. Article 19 is essentially the oversight mechanism for European law by the European Court Justice that obliges member states to “provide remedies sufficient to ensure effective legal protection in the fields covered by Union law.”

Tuesday’s debate on rule of law in Poland centered on that Polish court ruling, starting with European Commission president Ursula Van de Leyen addressing the Chamber with her concerns about this decision and moving on to a reluctant warning for the Polish government.

“This ruling calls into question the foundations of the EU – This is the first time ever that the court of a member state finds that the treaties are incompatible with the national constitution.”

She told the Polish prime minister, present in the plenary chamber in Strasbourg, that she could not allow common European values to be put at risk, and outlined the options at her disposal such as an infringement procedure to legally challenge the judgement of the Polish constitutional court; the conditionality mechanism and other financial tools, and the article 7  procedure. “This is a powerful tool in the Treaty and we must come back to it.”

“Under article 7 the Commission does not view the current Polish constitutional court as independent or legitimate, seeing as it appears to be controlled by the PiS party currently in government,” von der Leyen said.

“Furthermore the ruling came after a question submitted by prime minister Mateuz Marievsk asking whether the EU Court of Justice is going too far in its rulings on Poland’s judicial system and exceeds its competences under the European Treaties.”

The Polish PM, Mateuz Marievsk, spoke of the issues facing Poland and the EU such as rising fuel prices and public debt, external threats and illegal migration. “It is unacceptable to talk about financial penalties... I will not have EU politicians blackmail Poland,” the PM said, accusing the EU of according special treatment to other member states when faced with similar situations, such as Italy or Germany on different constitutional issues.

Marievsk was criticised by Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt (Renew Europe). “The sinister game that you are playing is very clear: you put a politicized constitutional court in Poland and to defend against criticism by trying to remove the ECJ’s right to criticize the Polish constitutional court.”

Verhofstadt’s statement was echoed by many other MEPs such as Michal Šimečka (Renew) who bluntly explained the situation. “It’s good to be brutally honest about why we are having this debate. Your government, your party wanted to centralize power, take control of the independent judiciary in Poland and the ECJ stood in the way of that so you had your tribunal move it out of the way with this ruling.”

Some MEPs came to the defence of Poland, like Identity and Democracy group member Nicolas Bay, who described the allegations against the Polish PM as “baseless” and reiterated most of the talking points Marievsk employed in his address.

But S&D president Iratxe García Pérez held an equally dismal view of the Polish PM’s statements. “Votes do not give legitimacy to drift away from democracy,” she said, adding that the Polish courts’ ruling had created “an unprecedented crisis”.

“No one is pushing you toward the door, but we are missing the point with this debate when you and PiS party set this out as a confrontation between Polish and European sovereignty. You have not understood what the EU is: 70 years ago the founding fathers understood that the best way of exercising sovereignty in an interdependent world was by sharing it – but to share that sovereignty, there needs to be some basic principles which are a given: separation of powers, independence of the judiciary, respect for the freedom of the press and I think that’s where the problem is governments such as yours have taken a path toward totalitarianism and regression.”

Ewropej Funded by the European Union

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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