BRUSSELS, Belgium: A Brussels summit of 27 European Union member states is being overshadowed by a dispute with Poland about the primacy of EU law.
Poland could face EU sanctions over a ruling by its highest court stipulating that some aspects of EU law are incompatible with the Polish constitution.
In response, Poland accused the EU of "blackmail," though opinion polls suggest most Poles support EU membership.
"The rule of law is a core aspect of the European Union," said Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, while Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said, "If you want to have the advantages of being in a club, then you need to respect the rules. You cannot be a member of a club and say, 'The rules do not apply to me'."
The dispute has intensified tensions between liberal EU politicians, who are in the majority, and the nationalist governments of Poland and Hungary.
On Thursday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accused the European Commission of overreaching its legal mandate, saying, "We will not act under pressure of blackmail."
Hungary's nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban supports Poland, noting, "The fact is very clear, the primacy of EU law is not in the treaty at all, so the EU has primacy where it has competencies."
The EU has taken legal action against both Hungary and Poland on issues related to rule of law, and accused them of defying EU values on judicial independence, media freedom and minority rights, most notably regarding migrants and the LGBT community.
The European Commission has delayed approving COVID-19 recovery funds for Poland worth $66 billion, and it may not do so until the dispute is settled.
"The independence of the Polish judiciary is the key issue we have to discuss. It is very difficult to see how a big new fund of money could be made available to Poland when this is not settled," said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Annex 17 of the Lisbon Treaty stipulates EU law takes precedence over national laws, and European Court of Justice rulings have enshrined that principle.