Aftermath of Polish Constitutional judgement on EU law expected to dominate EP Plenary Session

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The recent controversial judgement by Poland’s Constitutional Court, which ruled that parts of EU law were incompatible with the country’s constitution, is expected to dominate proceedings today in Strasbourg as the second plenary session for this month gets underway.

While EU leaders are meeting in Brussels this week for a two-day summit, MEPs are pushing for a stronger position against Poland on the Court’s decision which has raised the spectre of a Polish exit from the EU. This mornin, Parliament will debate the recent ruling of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The ruling challenges the established primacy of European law, and questions whether rulings by the European Court of Justice are binding on national courts. The judgement comes amid long-running disagreements with EU institutions over the rule of law, compliance with ECJ rulings, and judicial independence in Poland. Over the weekend, outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel argued against withholding EU funds from Poland and Hungary, calling for all attempts at finding a compromise to be made. “We have big problems, but my advice is to solve them in talks, to find compromises,” she said.

Josep Borrell, EU foreign policy chief, said that the European Union will give a “firm answer” to a ruling by Poland’s top court challenging the primacy of EU law, and will tell Warsaw to “abide by the rules of the club”, stopping short of indicating what steps it might take to bring Poland into line. The commission, the guardian of EU treaties, is already withholding its approval for Poland’s recovery plan necessary to let Warsaw to tap into billions of euros available on top of other handouts from the bloc and meant to help revive economic growth mauled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Merkel’s views are seemingly supported by European Council President Charles Michel, who over the past days since the ruling used cautious statements in his public outings after meeting a number of EU leaders.

Council and Commission push for compromise, EP wants immediate action

However, with the Commission and Council seemingly looking for compromise, it appears the European Parliament may take a different approach. Sergey Lagodinsky, a Green MEP, who has proposed a lawsuit against the Commission on its alleged inaction on the rule of law, said in an interview with Politico that “if we continue waiting and talking, as Merkel suggests, we will soon have no democracy left to save in a number of EU states,” he warned.

This direction was echoed by the Socialists. Tiemo Wölken, S&D spokesperson for the legal affairs committee argued that “instead of standing up to bullies and autocrats using EU money to dismantle democracy, the Commission has kicked the can down the road and failed to apply the rule of law conditionality regulation. The time has come for the Commission to face up to its failures and take responsibility”.

In today’s debate, Parliament is expected to once again urge the Commission to trigger the “conditionality mechanism” swiftly and to launch infringement proceedings against the government in Warsaw. Apart from blocking the disbursement of COVID recovery funds to Poland, the European Commission has the option to use a new and yet-to-be-tested enforcement tool to suspend funding for states deemed violating key values enshrined in European laws.

The centre-right EPP will be expected to put some tough questions to the Polish Prime Minister, following the hard statement issued in the aftermath of the constitutional ruling: “By declaring that the EU Treaties are not compatible with Polish law, the illegitimate Constitutional Tribunal in Poland has put the country on the path to Polexit. Even more so, as it pronounced this verdict on the request of Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. With this request, Morawiecki has not only legitimised an illegal system of the judiciary in Poland, but he has also questioned the very basis of the European Union. And he did it despite the calls of the whole democratic world not to do so”, Jeroen Lenaers MEP, EPP Group Spokesman for Justice and Home Affairs, said.

Last month, prior to the decision by the Polish court, the European Parliament had issued a resolution defending the primacy of EU law as a cornerstone of the European Union’s legal order, formally accepted by all member states. Accordingly, it called on the Polish Prime Minister and the Prosecutor General to withdraw their motions, pending before the illegitimate ‘Constitutional Tribunal’, to review whether certain parts of the EU Treaties and of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to a fair trial) are constitutional.

Farm to fork
Yesterday evening, at the beginning of the plenary, MEPs discussed with Commissioner Kyriakides their proposals to ensure that Europe can produce healthier food, guarantee food security and a fair income for farmers, and reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint. The draft resolution on which plenary will vote today also underlines the importance of offering European consumers high-quality and affordable products, while guaranteeing decent earnings for farmers.

MEPs to demand urgent support for European news media and audiovisual sector
The European Parliament set to voice concerns about pandemic-related revenue loss in the media sector, media freedom issues, and the disruptive impact of global online platforms.
The EU news media sector, in particular local and regional media organisations and those operating in smaller markets, needs urgent support from the EU and member states in order to recover from the pandemic and transform itself to fit the operational and business models of the digital age.
Worried about state capture of the media in some member states, MEPs want urgent action to support media freedom in the EU, protect journalists. and the independence of media outlets.
In the draft resolution, to be debated on Monday and voted on by MEPs on Tuesday, MEPs highlight the “disruptive impact” of global social networks and news aggregators, as well as streaming services, undermining revenues for the EU audiovisual sector. During the pandemic the EU audiovisual sector suffered a massive revenue loss – a drop of almost 70% in box office revenues for cinemas and distributors in 2020, totalling EUR 4 billion, alongside a reduction of 30% in active productions.

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