Poland: A showdown with the EU
Democracy is in retreat in Poland, said Adam Szostkiewicz in Polityka (Poland). Less than three decades after we threw off the yoke of Communist rule, Poland again faces the possibility of a single party wielding total power over all aspects of the state—including the judiciary. The ruling Law and Justice party appears to share the Communists’ belief that “judges should serve the party and be controlled by the authorities.” Sweeping legislation passed last month will force the retirement of all Supreme Court justices ages 65 and over—a criterion met by nearly half of the court’s 86 judges, including its president, Malgorzata Gersdorf, an outspoken critic of the government. The Law and Justice–dominated legislature will then pick their replacements. It’s just the latest in a series of “authoritarian attacks on civil rights and freedoms” by this government. A TV network, for example, was recently fined for covering an opposition protest. Is democracy dying here? Or is it already dead?
This judicial takeover represents an existential crisis for the European Union—one far worse than Brexit, said Bernd Riegert in Germany’s DW.com. Unlike the U.K., Poland doesn’t want to leave the union. Instead it wants to flout the bloc’s founding values—such as respect for the rule of law—while reaping the benefits of membership. And Poland’s close allies Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic want the same thing; they just haven’t gone as far yet. This year will be a turning point for the 28-nation union. If the bloc lets the nationalists get away with such flagrant rule breaking, “the EU in its present form will be at an end.”
That’s why the EU is taking the sternest possible measures, said Le Monde (France) in an editorial. The bloc has for the first time unleashed its “nuclear option,” invoking Article 7 of its founding treaty, by which it can discipline errant members. Brussels has given Warsaw three months to change its judicial laws or face a vote in the EU’s Council of Ministers that could strip Poland of its EU voting rights. The catch? The vote in the Council of Ministers must be unanimous, and Hungary—itself heading down the path of authoritarianism—has already said it will veto any censure of Poland. But there’s another way the EU could punish Poland: withholding or delaying some of the roughly $12 billion in EU funds it receives each year. That “would certainly be felt in Warsaw.”
“Let’s hope the EU isn’t just bluffing,” said Stanislaw Skarzynski in Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland). Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski views the EU as a threat to the nation-state and has been dreaming of this showdown since his party took power for the first time in 2005, just a year after Poland joined the bloc. If the EU folds to the Law and Justice power grab, “advocates of Polish democracy will lose their faith, not only in their own judiciary but also in the seriousness, authority, and political instincts of EU leaders.”