• Sycamore Institute AU

Protecting National Sovereignty in the European Union


By Chandler Eby


Since the beginning of the Cold War, the principle of national sovereignty and the right of self-governance has been routinely ignored by world powers, both democratic and undemocratic. Even to this day, national sovereignty continues to be conveniently forgotten if it benefits a stronger nation. Such is the case of the dispute between the European Union and Poland over Poland’s recent judicial reform law. Yet, national sovereignty is one of the most critical aspects of an effective democracy. The European Union and the United States should respect the sovereignty of Poland by upholding the supremacy of Polish law over European law.

The European Union has been engaged in a legal row with Poland since July of this year over Poland’s controversial judicial reforms. Implemented in February of 2019, the judicial reform bill prevented judges from referring cases to the European Court of Justice for decisions and established a disciplinary chamber to investigate judges for charges of corruption. The EU Court ruled in July of this year that Poland’s reforms are fundamentally incompatible with EU law and ordered the country to repeal the reforms. The legal feud escalated at the end of October when the EU’s top court ordered Poland to pay a daily fine of 1 million a day until the reforms are suspended. While the abuse of Poland’s reforms by political opponents is dangerous, the primacy of national law should not be abandoned in the face of the EU’s suit.

The issue of national sovereignty within the European Union has become a matter of intense debate over the last few years. Coinciding with the growth of populist politics worldwide, Euroscepticism has become a formidable force in European affairs. Most notably, the United Kingdom exited the EU following a long-awaited referendum in June of 2016. In 2017, Eurosceptic and French nationalist Marine LePen earned enough votes in the French Presidential election to advance to the final ballot against Emmanuel Macron. Poland’s judicial reforms are just another example of increasing Euroscepticism and should be interpreted as attempts at asserting national sovereignty rather than genuine acts of reform.

The Polish government’s efforts to explain their alleged investigations of political opponents in the judiciary over their rulings as modest reforms presents the EU, and the US, with the precarious job of respecting both popular sovereignty and the democratic rule of law. Candidate Joe Biden campaigned against populism, accusing President Trump of cozying up to dictators and turning a blind eye to undemocratic regimes. As President, Biden would naturally be inclined to speak out against Poland’s anti-democratic reforms, as he should. The issue lies in how President Biden would go about doing so. If the US sides with the EU in their suit against Poland, it will demonstrate that the US is not committed to respecting the sovereignty of other nations and their right to their laws.

Currently, the legal row between the EU and Poland highlights the US’ inconsistent commitment to protecting and ensuring a right to national sovereignty, damaging the US’ standing in the world. Since WWII, the US has engaged in several coups and blatantly violated the right of the people to elect their own government in the process. An essential democratic principle, national sovereignty should be respected by democratic powers in all but the most extreme cases, such as genocide. Siding with the EU would only further demonstrate the US’ routine ignorance of popular sovereignty and a nation’s right to self governance.

Despite our history, President Biden and the US can still benefit from the ongoing legal row by deftly handling both parties’ interests. President Biden should condemn Poland’s judicial reforms as the antidemocratic and authoritarian measures that they are. However, President Biden must also respect and fight for Poland’s constitutional court ruling asserting that Polish law supersedes EU law when in conflict. In terms of practical policy, President Biden should have the Ambassador to Poland relay to the Polish Prime Minister that the United States’ deeply opposes these judicial reforms and views them as undemocratic. But, the United States will join Poland’s defense and support their right to uphold the primacy of their national law in the legal row with the European Union. These proposed actions are not ones of moderation, nor attempts to cater to both sides. Polish law should supersede the laws of the European Parliament, but Polish law should also respect democratic norms. By committing to these seemingly contradictory ideals, President Biden would send a clear signal that the US is truly supportive of national sovereignty and will stand by that principle even in times of controversy.

The US and the rest of the democratic world must prove that they are dedicated to preserving and promoting national sovereignty. The European Parliament may pass laws, but it should respect the supremacy of national law over European law. Correcting our history, the US needs to reaffirm the importance of sovereignty and respect Polish law, while still condemning it on principle. The US should be looked to as an example in the global community, and that demands abiding by our democratic ideals even when our allies alienate those ideals.