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Polish court to debate primacy of EU law for the third time

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Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal will make its third attempt on Thursday to rule on whether the country’s constitution or European law takes precedence, a verdict critics say Warsaw may be using as a bargaining chip in a row with Brussels.

Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government is involved in a series of disputes with the EU on issues ranging from courts and media freedom to LGBT rights.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki brought the case in March as part of a conflict with the EU over changes to Poland’s judicial system. The government has been accused of politicising courts, including the Constitutional Tribunal.

The Tribunal started hearing the case in August but has adjourned twice.

European Economic Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni has said the court challenge was holding up 57 billion euros ($48 billion) in EU recovery aid to Warsaw.

Most EU countries – but not Poland or Hungary – already won approval for their plans, unlocking access to funds to help restart growth hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Some critics say delaying the verdict is an attempt to put pressure on Brussels to accept Poland’s plan.

“I think this is an element of pressure on the European Commission, on EU partners, a sort of threat which is supposed to hang over this until the EU backs down,” said Jan Grabiec, spokesman for the biggest opposition party Civil Platform.

“But this threat is impossible to act on, as more than 80% of Poles are very positive about the EU.”

PiS says Brussels has no right to interfere with the judicial systems of EU member states and argues the reforms were needed to remove communist-era influence in the judiciary. It denies having any influence over court decisions.

The primacy of European laws over national ones is a key tenet of European integration. Opposition politicians say challenging it not only jeopardises Poland’s long-term future in the EU, but also the stability of the bloc itself.

Photo – A Polish national flag flies at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland. EPA-EFE/Radek Pietruszka

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