Last week, Poland’s top court ruled that “national legislation trumps European laws,” according to Reuters. This ruling goes against the central tenet of European integration, the key to the foundation and survival of the European Union, and has worried many top European officials.
Vera Jourova, the European Commissioner for Values and Transparency, said, “[I]f we don’t uphold the principle in the E.U. that equal rules are respected the same everywhere in Europe, the whole Europe will start collapsing… That is why we have to react to this new chapter which the Polish constitutional court started to draw.”
Financially, the ruling is expected to negatively impact Warsaw. Poland is a large beneficiary of aid from the European Union, meant to help poorer member states catch up to the wealthier ones. Moody’s, a rating agency, estimates that up to 2% of Poland’s G.D.P. since 2004, when Poland joined the European Union, came through E.U. funding. It is projected that E.U. funding will account for a larger 3.2% of Poland’s GDP from 2021-2027. On top of this, Poland could receive “23 billion euros in free grants and 34 billion euros in cheap loans” under the European Union’s plan to help countries financially recover from the economic crisis induced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thus, despite European fears of Polish secession, the Polish neither expect such an event nor support it. More than 100,000 Poles protested last Sunday in favor of the European Union, and citizen support for the organization remains overwhelmingly high.
Polish and European officials have also spoken against the possibility of Poland leaving the European Union. Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki has called talk of a Polish exit “a harmful myth which the opposition substitutes for its lack of ideas on the proper position of Poland in Europe,” while the French E.U. industry commissioner Thierry Breton said he did not believe “for one second” that there would be a “Polexit.”
Despite the reaction from both Poland’s people and prime minister, the Union’s fears about succession are not unfounded. During the height of the migrant crisis across Europe, far-right groups became more vocal about opposition to European cultural and legal hegemony. These attitudes led to Poland’s conservative Law and Justice party’s successful bid for power in 2015. The tribunal ruling follows prolonged and divisive disputes between Poland and the European Union about issues of women, migrants, and L.G.B.T. rights.
Britain’s messy exit from the E.U. and Poland’s recent reactions against European values have led to more questions about the bloc’s legitimacy and longevity. Many countries are wondering if sacrificing domestic sovereignty for the interconnectedness and economic strength of E.U. membership is worth it. Hungary in particular has echoed Poland on these questions, adopting views antithetical to Europe’s regarding the place and status of L.G.B.T. people and migrants in Hungarian society.
The European Union is a diverse coalition of nations with a value-set rooted in the Western tradition. In addition to evaluating prospective new members’ economies, the E.U. often questions the risks of adding, for example, a Muslim nation like Turkey to the bloc. Such hesitation has been labelled as xenophobic in the past, but as cases like Poland and Hungary put the cultural rifts between Western, Protestant, liberal democratic countries and Eastern, Catholic, former-Communist European nations on full display, the wisdom of keeping European values as they are comes to light. We have yet to see how Poland’s court ruling will affect the European Union’s future, but it seems very likely to involve a domino effect of alarm bells over questions of secession and cultural and domestic sovereignty.
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