Poland triggers an existential crisis for Europe

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The European Union faces a crisis that may prove its most existential threat yet. This has nothing to do the Russia-opportunistic predations or anti-Brussels efforts of Brexiteers. This is not about the financial woes in the euro zone, a flood of migrants, or the death toll from a pandemic. Instead, it has to do with Poland.

Last week, Poland’s constitutional court, which is packed with judges loyal to the country’s illiberal ruling party, determined that the Polish constitution trumped European law in certain cases and superseded the authority of the European Union’s Court of Justice. The decision came after months of political and legal turmoil on the continent about what many experts consider to be a dispute between Poland and the European Union. officials view as the right-wing Polish government’s steady assault on the country’s independent judiciary, a process that has played out in slow motion since the ruling Law and Justice party came to power in 2015.

The Polish court’s decision has mammoth implications. In an interview with Axios, E.U. Didier Reynders, Justice Commissioner of Europe, described the current situation as Europe‚Äôs Jan. 6 moment. This is a brazen attack on the political and legal consensus that unites Europe. We have known for many years that the EU granted members the right to apply the law. You have the full respect of democracy and fundamental rights. However, there are some issues. Reynders stated that they have a genuine intention to modify their legislation in order to comply [with EU law],”.

The latter declared in a speech that the Polish constitutional court’s “ruling calls into question the foundations of the European Union. It is a direct challenge to the unity of the European legal order.” She laid out possible avenues to sanction Poland, including the suspension of some of Poland’s rights and the use of various E.U. law to withhold funds from Warsaw. Morawiecki reacted to von der Leyen and called his country a victim of an attack from Brussels. He said, “If you wish to transform Europe into a superstate of nationless nations, then first get the consent from all European societies.”

But most observers outside of Poland view it the other way — that Warsaw’s gambit is a grievous blow to the European project. The entire functioning of the E.U. It is a rule of law political system,” R. Daniel Kelemen from Rutgers University explained to Today’s WorldView. The E.U. “The E.U. is not a country. It is not a state.

Once that edifice starts to erode, a precipitous unraveling could follow. “If courts across the EU cannot trust their Polish peers, then the EU’s legal system starts to gum up,” observed the Economist. An arrest warrant is not valid in this country. A bank license issued in one nation may not be recognized in the other. Over time, an area over which people, goods, capital and services can flow freely turns into one where they can move only with trouble.”

The focus, now, shifts to how the bloc as a whole will deal with Poland’s rogue behavior. Already, the anti-LGBT laws have been criticized. There is now a strong desire in capitals for a more aggressive approach. This includes using a rule of law mechanism to stop the E.U. funds and pandemic relief to Warsaw without having to win unanimity among the 27-member state bloc.

The threat of such sanctions have incensed Polish officials. Ryszard Terlecki (the deputy leader of the ruling party) suggested last month that Poland could be tempted to follow the British example. “The British showed that the dictatorship of the Brussels bureaucracy did not suit them and turned around and left,” he said.

But the prospect of a “Polexit” remains distant, not least because an overwhelming majority of Poles want to remain in the European Union. Advocates of tougher action on the E.U. Advocates for tougher action on the E.U. “If the commission and a majority of the member states do not take a stand, other countries, such as Bulgaria, Hungary, and Slovenia, will exploit these weaknesses to prevent Europe from pursuing the path to more integration,” wrote Carnegie Europe senior fellow Judy Dempsey. These countries see more integration as undermining their national sovereignty. But that is what all EU members signed up for when they joined the bloc.”

The way forward looks murky. For years, figures like von der Leyen and her former boss, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, accommodated illiberal governments in countries like Poland and Hungary both on partisan grounds — Hungary’s ruling Fidesz until recently was part of the same European political bloc as Merkel’s Christian Democrats — as well as a recognition of the complexity in taking on a government of a member state.

“The legal remedies available to the Commission, including a new, yet-to-be-triggered enforcement mechanism that could restrict the disbursal of EU budget funds, are insufficient — limited, time-consuming, cumbersome, impossible to carry out, or all of the above,” Politico noted. “But the political reality is that the EU cannot afford to go to war with one of its own member countries without putting its entire agenda in danger of being blocked, given that all crucial policy decisions require unanimity.”

The dilemma underscores a key tension underlying how the E.U. The E.U. works in this way: Kelemen stated that Brussels can penalize or fine large multinational tech companies such as Amazon and Google. However, it is “likely brought to its knees” by an economically dependent state.

Kelemen argued that Brussels needs to recognize and use its real leverage. “The gamble you’re getting from these regimes” — that is, Poland and Hungary under democracy-eroding Prime Minister Viktor Orban — “is that the E.U. He said that they would not back down and continue to push the envelope. They want the E.U. to be a safe haven for them. a hospitable home for them to have an electoral autocracy that can last for decades.”

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