19 November 2021

New Statesman: Radosław Sikorski: “Poland is on the path of Hungary and Russia”

He compares the dynamics within PiS to those within the UK Conservative Party in the early 2010s, which led to the decision to call the referendum. He told the New Statesman that he saw the ruling party as having been captured by a “small group of Europhobes” pressuring the government to adopt the faction’s “anti-European agenda”.

The PiS is leading Poland on the path of Hungary, and, ultimately, Russia in trying to abolish the separation of powers, he said. Having packed the constitutional court, the government is seeking to appoint pliant judges to lower courts too, extending its control over other levels of the judiciary. And the reason for doing that is that they want immunity from prosecution for the thievery that they’re doing on an unprecedented scale, he said. Independent rankings have Poland slipping down corruption perception indexes since PiS came to power in 2015.

Poland is already moving away from democracy, Sikorski said. He argues that its elections are undemocratic, though not stolen. State media and state resources have been abused by the ruling party.

Sikorski believes that the current path taken by PiS might ultimately lead to Poland leaving the EU, even though there are no mechanisms within the European treaties to eject a member state against its will. The Polish government has said that it supports EU membership and will not seek to leave the union.

Ido Vock

My initial, extremely cynical reaction to these developments was: “So long Poland, and best of luck dealing with your Eastern neighbors on your own”.

While there have been proposals to create new bodies that might arbitrate constitutional conflicts between the CJEU and national courts in the future, the law as it stands today is clear: no national court can overrule a CJEU judgment. Though we do not agree on all aspects of the constitutional pluralism debate, on one point we are unambiguously and emphatically united: it is unacceptable for a national court to declare that a CJEU ruling is not binding in its jurisdiction.

As the Court of Justice has explained repeatedly since Costa, if national courts could override the Court of Justice, EU law would not be applied equally or effectively across all Member States and the entire legal basis of the EU would be called into question. Indeed, as the CJEU emphasized in its recent press release, the supremacy of EU law is the only way of ensuring the equality of Member States in the Union they created. States have delegated part of their sovereignty to the EU on conditions of reciprocity. If one of them could decide what EU law is for itself, it would be more equal than the others, and the EU legal order would quickly unravel as a result.

R. Daniel Kelemen, Piet Eeckhout, Federico Fabbrini, Laurent Pech, Renata Uitz

A very shallow reaction of course, because Poland leaving the EU would have repercussions for the entire region sooner or later. It would weaken the EU and further embolden Vladimir Putin to sow dissent and mistrust and try to rebuild Russia’s former sphere of influence. And Romania is far from being immune to such destabilizing influences, or from the inclination to subsume judicial independence to political control. Poland’s slide away from rule of law is another criticism leveled against Merkel’s policies, who consistently argued against tougher measures, possibly because they would damage the tight economic connections between Germany and Poland.

People wave EU and Polish flags in support of Poland’s EU membership during a demonstration in Warsaw, Poland
People wave EU and Polish flags in support of Poland’s EU membership during a demonstration in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, October 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

The court ruling has sparked another round of protests in Poland, in favor of continued EU membership, but I am skeptical any amount of protests would be enough to meaningfully impact the direction of the government. Nowadays, protests and social media outrage appear to serve as short term outlets for pent-up political dissent, but most of the people protesting or venting on social media are rarely bothered to vote when the time comes. There were stories after the Brexit vote that many Londoners, who would have been more in favor of remaining in the EU, didn’t bothered voting that day because it rained in London…

Something similar happened in Romania a couple of years back: massive protests against judicial changes, the ruling party eventually backed down, but three years later in the parliamentary elections it received the most votes again – the protesters were absent, and their supporters voted instead. In a sense all their energy is expended on these extra-political actions – and authoritarian governments are more than happy to profit from this dynamic, as their less vocal base is more loyal and disciplined and can be relied upon to cast their votes the ‘right’ way.

Another factor is the relentless propaganda against the EU that will eventually start affecting public opinion. The ongoing migrant crisis at the border with Belarus provides a perfect occasion for the government to promote itself as defender of Poland, and the EU as a bystander that doesn’t provide any assistance, conveniently ignoring to mention that they expressly refused EU support

The current period almost feels as if the Iron Curtain is being rebuilt, in a more fuzzy and incomplete manner, with Russia on one side pushing to expand its reign by any means necessary, and other countries such as Ukraine fiercely resisting. The current Polish government is walking a fine line between adopting authoritarian methods to stay in power, running propaganda against the EU to keep their electoral base engaged and maintain their political lead, and trying to keep EU institutions at bay to continue receiving funding. But at some point, they will have to choose a side in this renewed struggle between democracy and authoritarianism. I personally know full well which side am I on…

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