The EU's warning to Poland over the rule of law comes with risks

时间:2019-09-08 责任编辑:甄痉孀 来源:兴发娱乐平台 点击:30 次

In delivering a to Poland’s government about jeopardising “the rule of law”, the European commission (EC) has set up a showdown with Warsaw that it cannot be entirely sure of winning.

In recent weeks, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) – and in particular its hardline, behind-the-scenes leader, Jarosław Kaczyński – has dug in its heels over the issue at the heart of the dispute: political interference in the independence and authority of the country’s constitutional court.

Meanwhile, the commission’s power over Warsaw is limited. The “or else” hovering behind EC vice-president Frans Timmermans’ admonishments is the eventual invocation of article 7 of the EU treaty and the withdrawal of Poland’s voting rights. That would be a serious step, but it would require the agreement of every other EU member. Warsaw would be able to count on the support of Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz government in , which has also been threatened with article 7 punishment, to block such a move.

An attempt to take away Poland’s voting rights would also put David Cameron in an awkward position. The 2014 rule-of-law procedure under which Timmermans made his pronouncement is seen as over-reach by the Tory government, which generally sees it as unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of member states. Cameron would not want its existence or application advertised ahead of this month’s referendum on Brexit. Furthermore, the Tories are allied with PiS in the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European parliament.

The commission might have hoped to gain some leverage over the PiS government through Polish public opinion, which has historically been pro-European. But Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska, an analyst at the Centre for European Reform, said that being taken to task by the has so far not damaged the government’s popularity at home. “This may backfire in Poland. People may turn again the commission rather than the government,” she said.

The limited impact on public opinion may be linked to the PiS government’s moves to mute critical voices, of journalists suspected of centrist or leftist views, another move that has caused unease in Brussels.

However, the prime minister, Beata Szydło, who represents the more conciliatory face of PiS, will be sensitive to broader reputational damage on the world stage. It is her, rather than PiS chairman Kaczyński, who has to sit at negotiating tables with other global leaders, and she will be the host of the Nato summit in July, an event of great symbolic importance in a country keenly aware of its place on the alliance’s eastern flank.

For now, both Timmermans and Szydło are insisting that constructive talks are continuing, as neither side has an incentive to make a sudden break, but at the heart of the dispute there is a zero-sum game. Either the Polish government reverses its moves to limit the independence of the judiciary, or is seen to acquiesce in the further spread of illiberalism among its own ranks.