Yesterday in the EU Parliament in Strasbourg something extraordinary happened. It’s called ‘compelling viewing’ and that’s not something one sees every day during the usually slow grind of EU speechifying.
In diplomatic terms, the President of the EU Commission effectively shouted at the Prime Minister of Poland and he shouted back. And they did so in front of all the MEPs present and all the cameras recording the event. No voices were raised, but the temperature most certainly was.
I present the details of this confrontation. Whilst our excerpts from the Polish Prime Minister’s speech are longer, they are definitely worth reading.
Excerpts from Ursula von der Leyen’s speech
“This ruling [the most recent ruling of the Polish Constitutional Court] calls into question the foundations of the European Union. It is a direct challenge to the unity of the European legal order.”
“This has serious consequences for the Polish people.”
“The Commission is the guardian of the Treaty.”
“The rule of law is the glue that binds our Union together.”
“We cannot and we will not allow our common values to be put at risk. The Commission will act.”
She then went on to threaten Poland with a variety of severe financial penalties, legal action, and other measures. Below is the video of Frau von der Leyen’s speech, in English.
You can watch the threat to Poland here
Polish PM’s speech destroys EU Commission’s position
Immediately following Frau von der Leyen’s speech, the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki addressed the chamber. Neither the EU Commission President nor the MEPs can have expected what followed.
The English language version of his speech is not yet available in video form, but I have the transcript. As it was a long speech I have shown some excerpts below.
1. What the Polish PM said in general
Today, we stand at the threshold of a huge gas and energy crisis. Soaring prices — caused, among other things, by the intentional actions of Russian companies… The scale of this crisis could shake Europe in the coming weeks. Many companies could go bankrupt, the gas crisis could push millions of households, tens of millions of people — into poverty and deprivation through uncontrolled costs increases across Europe.”
“The process of economic integration has broadened opportunities for companies from my country, but it has also opened great possibilities for German, French or Dutch companies…. Just count the huge outflow of dividends, interest, profits and other financial instruments from Central European countries — the less wealthy ones — to Western Europe — the wealthiest ones.”
“Too often we have a Europe of double standards. And now I will tell why we must put an end to this model.”
“Pretending that problems do not exist drives bad consequences. Citizens are not blind, they are not deaf. If self-satisfied politicians and officials fail to see this, they will gradually lose trust… It is already happening.”
“It is unacceptable to extend powers, to act by means of faits accomplis. It is unacceptable to impose one’s decisions on others without a legal basis. It is all the more unacceptable to use the language of financial blackmail for this purpose, to talk about penalties, or to use even more far-reaching words against certain Member States.
“I reject the language of threats, hazing and coercion. I do not agree with politicians blackmailing and threatening Poland. I do not agree with blackmail to become a method of conducting policy towards a Member State. That’s not how democracies do things.”
- Excerpts from the speech of Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki
2. The Polish PM’s bombshell for Ursula von der Leyen and her federalist colleagues
Next, Mateusz Morawiecki delivered a devastating blow to the arguments which the EU Commission has been using against Poland. He starts by quoting from legal texts — it is important to read these before he then delivers his bombshells.
Excerpts from his legal bombshells
“I want to present you the facts in the next section of my speech. And to do this, it is best to present some quotes directly:
“In the [national] legal order, the primacy of Union law does not apply to the provisions of the Constitution — it is the Constitution that sits at the top of the internal legal system.”
“The principle of the primacy of European Union law (…) cannot undermine in the national legal order the supreme force of the Constitution.”
“The Constitutional Court may examine the ultra vires condition (…) that is, determine whether the actions of the institutions of the Union violate the principle of conferral when the institutions, bodies, organs and agencies of the Union have exceeded the scope of their powers in a way that violates that principle. As a result of such a decision ultra vires acts do not apply within the territory [of the member state].”
“The Constitution prohibits the transfer of powers to such an extent that would mean that [a state] cannot be considered a sovereign and democratic country.”
“The Constitution is the supreme law of Poland in relation to all international agreements binding it, including agreements on transfer of competence in certain matters. The Constitution shall enjoy the primacy of validity and application within the territory of Poland.”
“The transfer of competences to the European Union may not violate the principle of supremacy of the Constitution and may not violate any provisions of the Constitution.”
“I can see the agitation on your faces, I understand that you disagree with it, at least in part, in this Chamber… But I do not understand why. Because these quotations come from decisions of the French Constitutional Council, the Danish Supreme Court, the German Federal Constitutional Court. I omitted the quotations from the Italian and Spanish court.”
“This stance of national courts is not new. I could quote dozens of more rulings from Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic, Romania, Lithuania and other countries.”
3. The Polish Prime Minister ends with a resounding “No!” to a “nationless superstate”
“Today there are two attitudes we can adopt: either we can agree to all extra-legal, extra-treaty attempts to limit the sovereignty of European countries, including Poland, to the creeping expansion of the competences of institutions such as the Court of Justice, to the “silent revolution” taking place not on the basis of democratic decisions but through court rulings — or we can say: “No, my dears” — if you want to make Europe into a nationless superstate, first gain the consent of all European countries and societies for this.”
“No sovereign state can agree to such an interpretation. To accept it would mean that the Union ceased to be a union of free, equal and sovereign countries — and that it would transform itself, by the method of faits accomplis, into a centrally administered parastatal organism, whose institutions may force upon its “provinces” whatever they consider right. This was never agreed to.”
“I will repeat once again: the supreme law of the Republic of Poland is the Constitution. It precedes other sources of law. No Polish court, no Polish parliament and no Polish government can depart from this principle.”
- Mateusz Morawiecki, Prime Minister of Poland, EU Parliament speech, 19 Oct 2021
I have watched countless EU Parliamentary debates over the years. Sadly, these are rarely an edifying spectacle. Yesterday’s event will therefore go down in our personal histories as one to be remembered.
Compared to the usual niceties of diplomatic language, this was raw animosity on public display. The EU has been attempting to intimidate Poland into obeying it. Yesterday showed that the Poles are having none of it.
There is huge pressure on the Commission from MEPs to take more punitive action against Poland and Frau von der Leyen played to her audience. Conversely, the Polish Prime Minister received a rather less enthusiastic response from those present. In terms of arguments, however, it was the Polish PM Mr Morawiecki who clearly won the day.
When it comes to the eventual outcome of this serious confrontation, I rather suspect that the usual ‘fudge’ will be arrived at in due course. Right now, however, we seem to be a long way from this outcome. The Commission’s problems continue to pile up across many fronts and the leadership of Frau von der Leyen must once again be called into question, as one prominent MEP did yesterday.
Democracy in the EU?
Finally, and before readers applaud the ‘plucky Poles’ too loud I should mention one thing about the EU and democracy, as exemplified by the protagonists in yesterday’s debate.
Mrs von der Leyen lectures about democracy and the rule of law but was appointed, not elected by popular mandate. Exactly the same can be said of Mr Morawiecki. The Polish Prime Minister’s name does not appear on the Polish government websites for its lower house (the Sjem) or the upper house, the Senate.
As far as I can ascertain, he is an ex-banker who was appointed by the head of his party to replace the previous incumbent, Ms Szydło. And he is not alone in the EU in owing his position to patronage as opposed to a plebiscite.
[ Sources: EU Parliament | EU Commission | Polish Government ]