Sovereignty versus Europe

29 October 2021

The Polish supreme court has raised a direct challenge to the supremacy of the Treaty of the European Union over the laws of member states. The Polish court grants the supremacy of European laws over national statutory law but denies supremacy over national constitutions on the ground that no member state agreed to forfeit its “sovereignty” by joining the EU. The Polish action drew an immediate rebuke from the European Commission, but reactions from politicians in member states have been anything but concordant.

In France, in particular, several of the Les Républicains contenders for the presidential nomination have been unable to resist the temptation to issue resonant paeans to French “sovereignty,” perhaps hoping to revive memories of Charles de Gaulle, exponent of the force de frappe and non-occupant of la chaise vide. For instance, Politico reports that

Xavier Bertrand, another presidential hopeful from the ranks of Les Républicains, has proposed amending the French constitution to introduce “a mechanism to safeguard the superior interests of France.” And yet another would-be president from the ranks of the same party, Eric Ciotti, has made a similar proposal.


More surprisingly, perhaps, Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator and therefore putative defender of the primacy of the EU treaties, has joined the sovereignist bandwagon. So has Valérie Pécresse, who told CNews that

L’Europe exerce son magistère dans le cadre des traités qui sont au-dessus de nos lois mais ne peuvent pas être au-dessus de nos identités constitutionnelles, ni celle de la Pologne ni celle de la France.

On the left, Arnaud Montebourg, already well-known for his economic nationalism, has added his voice to the sovereignist chorus, stating that “la défense de la souveraineté nationale des États membres est fondamentale” but immediately confusing the issue (in characteristic fashion) by adding that he “n’approuve pas le gouvernement clérical et réactionnaire de la Pologne.”

To be sure, few French citizens have much understanding of the arcana of EU law, and people are more likely to respond to this robust plucking of the nationalist heartstring than to a discussion of the finer points of the Treaties of the European Union, which would no doubt smack of chicanery no matter which position it took. Ultimately, however, the EU must work toward greater clarity on this issue, or it will risk “two, three, many Polands” in the near future, as national governments or politicians find it expedient to declare their independence, however circumscribed, from the “ever closer Union” of which they claim to be members.


Photo Credits: Europe in 1923, by George Washington Bacon (1830-1921) (Public domain) via Wikimedia Commons.

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