The politician stressed that the Poles want to stay in the EU, but on acceptable conditions, so that they are not forced to do what restricts freedom and development. This statement was made in the light of the European Commission's appeal to the EU court with a proposal to impose fines against Poland due to its unwillingness to dissolve the Disciplinary Chamber, which limits the independence of judges. Also, the European Commission had an idea to deprive Warsaw of funding to overcome the consequences of the coronavirus.
Before Terletsky's statements, the plans of the leadership of the Law and Justice party were to find an alternative to the Disciplinary Chamber until September 2021, but, apparently, the choice was made in favor of an information attack on Brussels. According to the European Commissioner for Economic Affairs Paolo Gentilioni, this year Poland could count on 57 billion euros from European funds and as loans from the EU budget. By its example, Poland creates conditions for undermining unity within the EU, openly expressing disagreement with the policy of European institutions. If the British, as Terletsky said, left the EU because of their disagreement with the Brussels dictatorship, the Poles want to stay, but play by their own rules, creating obstacles for the supporters of turning the integration entity into a superstate.
The essence of the contradictions
With the entry into force of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty, the European Union gained legal personality in international relations, and its institutions (European Commission, European Parliament, European Council, EU Court) acquired broad powers. The Lisbon Treaty was the result of a discussion of the European establishment on the ways of the EU's development for the next 15-20 years, including a deeper democratization of the political life of the member states, an increase in the influence of supranational bodies on decisions made by national governments, and the delimitation of their competences on various issues. In particular, one of the functions of the EU court is to ensure that member states comply with European law.
In April 2008, the Polish parliament, dominated by the pro-European coalition of the Civil Platform Party and the Polish People's Party, ratified the Lisbon Agreement. However, after the conservative Law and Justice Party came to power in Poland in 2015, a drift from the ideals of European liberalism began. The Polish authorities place an emphasis on training loyal cadres for the authorities, strengthened control over the media, banned abortions, restricted the activities of non-governmental organizations, freedom of speech in universities, have a cool attitude to the principle of gender equality, tolerance for LGBT people and allowed the creation of gays free zones in certain localities, refused to accept refugees from Muslim countries. All these initiatives are welcomed by the Polish conservative electorate, mostly devout inhabitants of the province.
There is latent corruption in modern Poland. This is not about bribes to officials to resolve administrative issues and not about cutting the state budget. Latent corruption manifests itself in informal agreements at the state level, bypassing the principle of openness and transparency of government, in rewriting laws to suit the interests of the ruling party. For example, in 2016, taking advantage of the parliamentary majority, Law and Justice amended the civil code and removed the restrictions on working in ministries for members of the ruling party. As a result, the Conservatives took over 3,000 key administrative posts.
Party Law and Justice needed their people in the courts to strengthen control over the social and political life of Poland. Pocket judges rule in favor of the state in cases related to the refusal to provide work in government agencies to citizens not related to the Law and Justice party. The same is true for cases concerning the refusal of the State Fund for Municipal Roads to provide subsidies to settlements where opposition politicians are in power. To bring their people to the courts, the government initiated a reform. In 2017, the Disciplinary Chamber was created, which can revoke the immunity of judges. It consists of judges elected by the National Council of Justice, which composition is formed by the parliament.
With the help of the Disciplinary Chamber, the Polish government is cleansing the courts of its opponents. Such a fate befell the Warsaw judge Igor Tulei, an opponent of judicial reform. The judge was prosecuted for allowing journalists and members of the public to attend a hearing in 2016 on the case of the Law and Justice Party violating parliamentary quorum rules. According to Polish law, judges have the right to decide who is present in the courtroom, and therefore the reasons for the pressure on Tulei are purely political.
The Polish authorities argue that the Disciplinary Chamber is a temporary solution, and the goal of the reform is to clear the courts of corrupt officials, but the EU perceived the reform as limiting the independence of judges, weakening the system of checks and contradictions between the executive, legislative and judicial branches and a manifestation of authoritarianism. The contradictions are aggravated by the fact that, according to the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, justice is among those areas that are within the joint competence of the Union and the member states, which leads to a misunderstanding of which solution is more important. The Polish authorities are confident that judges cannot obey the EU court.
On the one hand, the EU's attempts to force Poland to cancel the judicial reform with the help of fines and blackmail are contrary to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of the state, which is enshrined in paragraph 7 of Art. 2 of the UN Charter. Each state has the right to independently choose its political, economic, social or cultural system. Even the UN does not have the right to interfere in the internal competence of any state, which is the judiciary. The imposition of fines against a member country for non-compliance with EU court decisions in this context is illegitimate and will undermine trust within the organization.
On the other hand, having ratified the Lisbon Treaty and other legislative acts in the field of European integration, Poland delegated part of its sovereignty to the supranational bodies of the EU and adopted the existing rules of the game. The Poles knew what they were signing up for, and therefore it is inappropriate to accuse the EU of dictatorship, pressure, violation of sovereignty, to compare with the Soviet Union in terms of demands to follow a common course.
Terletsky's rhetoric is, rather, a game for the audience for political purposes. After the former chairman of the European Council and ex-Prime Minister of Poland Donald Tusk returned to politics and headed the main opposition force, Civil Platform, competition with the Law and Justice Party, which popularity declined during the pandemic, intensified. A candidate from the ruling party lost the mayoral elections in the city of Rzeszow in June 2021. Poland will hold parliamentary elections in 2023, but Tusk is pushing for early elections. Consequently, now Law and Justice is trying to present the EU and its creature Tusk as enemies of Poland, who trample on its sovereignty. The party in power needs to unite all the conservative strata of Polish society.
Eurosceptics versus Federalists
It will not cause the exit of Poland from the EU. This idea is unpopular in Polish society. According to a SW Research poll, 62.2% of Poles oppose leaving the EU, while only 17% support it. Warsaw is dependent on European funding. Since 2004, Poland has received over 127 billion euros from the EU - more than other member states. Polish citizens will suffer serious losses from the loss of access to the Common Market and the ability to move freely throughout Europe. About 2 million Poles left to work in other European countries, 80% of Poland's exports go to the EU. One of the reasons why Poland joined the EU and NATO is the desire to distance itself from Russia. Poland's closest partners among the members of the Visegrad Group and the Three Seas Initiative are also EU members.
Instead of Polexit, Polish conservatives are trying to bargain with Brussels for the right to a special position in the EU. They want to derive economic benefits from being in the bloc, but at the same time pursue an independent domestic and foreign policy, relieve themselves of the obligation to follow the norms of European legislation. As noted by the Ombudsman for Human Rights in Poland, Adam Bodnar, now the country is in the process of "legal Polexit". The Polish authorities want to say to Brussels that such a model of relations is less evil than the withdrawal of new countries from the EU.
But this approach of Poland is even more dangerous for the EU leadership. In the European Parliament, the Law and Justice Party is part of the Eurosceptic faction "European Conservatives and Reformists", which opposes the transformation of the EU into a federal superstate and the intervention of supranational bodies in the affairs of national governments. Poland is one of those member states that do not want to give up their national currency in favor of the euro. Poland's example makes one wonder whether it makes sense at all to follow the path of even more intense and deeper integration.
Not everyone agrees with the Poles. In 2019, French President Macron proposed the creation of a European Refugee Agency and a common migration policy, strengthening the security of European borders, the founding of the European Internal Security Council, the European army and military union, the European Climate Bank to finance projects in the field of the transition from fuel to alternative energy sources. In this he was supported by the President of the European Council Charles Michel.
The Federalists propose to go even further. In 2017, the former chairman of the European Youth Movement proposed transforming the European Council and the European Parliament into a bicameral legislature that controls the activities of the European Commission (government) and introducing direct elections of the EU president by citizens of member countries with the participation of an electoral commission, as it works in the United States. The EU is distinguished from a full-fledged federation by the absence of a common tax authority, a unified armed forces. In addition, the EU budget does not cover all the expenses of the member states, and they continue to ratify and amend international treaties.
The disputes between the EU and Poland will continue as long as Eurosceptics remain in power. Warsaw is not the only one of its kind. Eurosceptics are in power in Hungary. Political forces that do not accept EU federalization exist in 19 EU member states. The importance of a United Europe is exaggerated, and the EU's greatest value lies in the Common Market and freedom of movement. Integration in the political sphere in the case of Poland and Hungary transformed into open interference in the internal affairs of states and led to a split within the EU.