11 October 2021

Poles apart: is there any chance of another EU exit?

By Robert Tyler

When David Cameron announced his intention to renegotiate the UK’s position inside the European Union, Poland was one of the first countries to express its support. 

While those negotiations didn’t go as planned, the calls for EU reform haven’t gone away. Today, Poland continues to be at the front of the debate over national sovereignty and has taken an active role in the Conference on the Future of Europe. However, unlike in the UK, no serious political forces are proposing that Poland leave the European Union. 

The governing conservative Law and Justice Party has remained a leading voice for reform, often working with other central-eastern European member states who have begun to share their scepticism when it comes to the increased centralisation of power in Brussels. In particular, Poland has taken an active lead in supporting European energy independence, opposing Russian interference, and updating infrastructure in the region. 

Poland equally remains an important bridge between the EU and other countries in eastern Europe, especially those in the process of transitioning towards Western democracy. Poles have remained core supporters of Ukraine in their struggles against Russia, and were the first to offer accommodation and financing for the Belarusian opposition. All of this they managed by working through both EU and non-EU channels. 

As for some kind of rupture with Brussels, the excited coverage one sees in some quarters simply doesn’t match the reality on the ground. In Warsaw today the only political movements that advocate for a so called ‘Polexit’ are those in the Konfederacja (Confederation) – a coalition of conspiracy theorists, radicals, and extremists that range from anarcho-capitalists to authoritarian monarchists. 

The Polish Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling on the primacy of Polish law over EU law seems to have triggered hysteria in some parts of the Western media. Partly because there is a certain twitchiness to equate any Eurosceptic statement or act with a Brexit-style bid to leave the EU, but mostly because the majority of journalists reporting on the topic are not doing so from Warsaw.  

That said, the argument over whether national or EU law should take precedence is certainly in vogue. Even the former EU Brexit negotiator turned French presidential candidate Michel Barnier has expressed a similar sentiment to that of the Polish courts – that EU law should not overrule French law. 

And there’s a good reason this debate is back on the front pages. The fact is that an increasing number of resolutions, regulations and directives, both from the European Parliament and the European Commission, fall outside the EU’s core competences. A growing number of laws passed in Brussels overstep the mark, pushing into territories over which the EU does not have legal jurisdiction. 

Particularly egregious are the EU’s attempts to elbow its way into the realm of social affairs, which mark a significant departure from the treaties and underline the cavalier attitude some in Brussels have to the rule of law.

The case before the Polish Constitutional Tribunal may end up being the first of many, unless the European Union returns to respecting the individual sovereignty of its member states. The power that the European Union has is derived from the trust that 27 individual states put in it, not the other way round. And the ruling of the Polish court expresses nothing more than that sentiment. 

But while we might expect more bitterly fought battles, Eurosceptics shouldn’t kid themselves that Poland or any of its near neighbours have any intention of leaving the bloc.

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Robert Tyler is the Senior Policy Advisor at New Direction Foundation for European Reform based in Brussels. Prior to that he worked in the European Parliament on Counter Terrorism and Foreign Policy.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.