A new crisis erupted in relations between Poland and the EU. Most of the MPs of the lower house of the Polish Parliament (Sejm) supported the bill, which creates legal grounds for prosecuting judges for activities of a political nature, including fines and dismissals. The bill has not yet been considered in the upper house (Senate), but it has already caused a storm of criticism in the European Union. Vice-President of the European Commission Věra Jourová called on the Polish authorities, including the Senate, to carefully analyze the document before it takes effect.
The Polish authorities believe that the aim of the scandalous bill is to combat corruption in the judicial system, where dominance of cadres of the old socialist formation is still observed. However, the Supreme Court said that Poland would be forced to leave the EU if the bill on the prosecution of judges comes into force since it contradicts the fundamental EU treaties.
Myths about Polexit
Brussels really believes that the initiative of the Polish parliamentarians contradicts EU legislation with respect to the independence of judges, a clear separation of the judicial, executive and legislative branches of government, the principle of checks and contradictions in the political system as an attribute of democratic regimes. Polish conservatives are trying to clear the courts of their opponents, to expand the role of the government in the formation of their personnel. With the filing of the Law and Justice party, the terms for being the head and deputy of the Constitutional Tribunal were reduced. Parliament elected at its discretion 15 members of the National Council of Justice, responsible for the appointment of judges. Legislators reduced the retirement age for judges of the Supreme Court, courts of general jurisdiction, deprived them of immunity from legal prosecution and reduced the number of courts. The Law and Justice party has been holding power in Poland since 2015, and judicial reform is one of the key areas of activity of the one-party government.
However, this does not mean that Poland might lose EU membership because of this. The Supreme Court’s statement contradicts EU legislation, which does not provide for the procedure for the forced exclusion of member countries. A participant may voluntarily leave the organization on the basis of Art. 50 of the Treaty on the European Union, as is the case with the UK. Sanctions might be imposed on the participant, including the deprivation of the right to vote in the European Council. In March 2018, the European Parliament approved the start of this procedure for Poland. The European Council may exclude a member from Permanent Structured Cooperation on Security and Defense. However, even these measures require the consent of a qualified majority in the European Council (55% of the participants). Sanctions have not entered into force. The maximum that was achieved was to exclude Poland from the European Network of Councils of Justice.
A provision on the exclusion of member countries into European legislation in the form of amendments to European legislation would not be included. This requires the approval of all member countries. Such amendments are not ratified by the parliaments of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, which, together with Poland, oppose the construction of the Russian Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline. The authorities of Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, who are in difficult relations with the European Commission on migration and respect for freedom of the media, will not dig their own grave.
The idea of expelling Poland from the EU for violating democracy is not popular in Europe because it contradicts the principle of solidarity. Not all citizens support the policy of the Law and Justice Party. In the parliamentary elections this year in Poland, about half of the voters voted for various opposition parties. Despite the fact that according to the results of the elections, the Law and Justice party retained a majority in the Sejm, the conservatives lost the advantage in the 100-seat Senate. Now 52 mandates are controlled by members of various opposition parties and independent non-partisan senators. The Chairman of the Senate from the Civic Platform party, Tomasz Grodzki, promised Vice President of the European Commission Věra Jourová to thoroughly study all bills that could violate the rule of law. The concerns of the Supreme Court of Poland do not correspond to the real situation.
There is no smoke without fire
The reasoning of the Polish opposition on the exclusion of Poland from the EU arose for a reason. This issue is periodically raised by individual experts and politicians. In 2017, Duel Amical project participant Killian Barras expressed concern about the growing popularity of conservative parties in Poland and Hungary. In his opinion, the European Union will not lose anything economically if it excludes Poland and Hungary. Jerzy Makarchuk, the former representative of Poland in the European Court, considers it appropriate to introduce a mechanism for temporary suspension of EU membership. However, attempts to incorporate these ideas into the draft EU Constitution in 2001-2003 (was not approved), the Lisbon Treaty of 2007 was unsuccessful.
Not all European countries welcomed the expansion of the EU to the East. In the early 90s, French President Francois Mitterrand proposed not to accept the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. He believed that only the countries of Western Europe should participate in the EU, and relations with Eastern European states should be built on the basis of economic association. In 2006, over 60% of the population of Germany, France, Luxembourg, Austria, and Finland did not support EU enlargement, according to a Eurobarometer survey. Such was the reaction of citizens of these countries to the entry into the EU of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Baltic States, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta in 2004. This year, the start of negotiations on the accession of Northern Macedonia, Albania to the EU was blocked by France, Denmark and the Netherlands (only with Albania). French President Emmanuel Macron proposes to tighten the criteria for admission of new countries.
The very fact that in European society there are supporters of the exclusion of member states from the EU, opponents of further expansion suggests that supporters of deepening European integration are not satisfied with the position of the governments of Poland and Hungary, which pursue an overly independent course. EU enlargement in 2004 and 2007 slowed down the processes of integration within the EU, the unification of the political and legal system of member countries. The decision to expand the EU was made out of geopolitical considerations in order to prevent the countries of Central and Eastern Europe from returning into the orbit of Kremlin influence.
The Polish authorities derive maximum economic benefits from EU membership, receive more funds from the European budget than they invest. At the same time, Poland refuses to place refugees on its territory, does not switch to the euro, does not support the EU’s plan to stop carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere until 2050 and has allowed the creation of zones free of LGBT people, which has received criticism in the EU. Over 80 local authorities in the localities of Poland proclaimed themselves free from the LGBT ideology, which contradicts Christian values. Such an approach runs counter to the interests of Brussels, which relies on the Polish opposition in order to reduce the influence of the Law and Justice party.