Wednesday

18th Jul 2018

Hungary veto sets scene for EU battle on Poland

  • Poland's Morawiecki (l) with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban (r) in Brussels last week (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Hungary and the Czech Republic have backed Poland in its dispute with the EU, as the war on rule of law moved to a larger theatre.

Hungary promised to veto EU sanctions on Poland after the European Commission triggered a punitive process over Polish judicial reforms on Wednesday (20 December).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

"We shall defend Poland in the face of an unfair, fabricated political procedure," Hungary's deputy prime minister Zsolt Semjen said the same day.

The Czech Republic reacted at a higher level, but with no concrete pledge.

The Czech prime minister, Andrej Babis, phoned his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki to say he was "convinced" that the commission's action "stems from a lack of communication" and that sanctions would "have a negative impact on the whole region".

The commission decision shifted the dispute to the wider European arena after two years of bilateral talks.

Member states are to vote in Brussels on 29 January whether they agree the Polish reforms constitute a "clear risk of a serious breach of rule of law".

That decision is to be taken by a four-fifths majority.

But a subsequent one, to confirm Poland is guilty of "a serious and persistent breach", must be taken by a consensus of the EU-27 minus Poland, prior to the adoption of sanctions, which would freeze Poland's EU voting rights.

Germany and France have backed the commission.

The Polish foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, expected support from the UK ahead of British prime minister Theresa May's visit to Warsaw on Thursday.

But May's office dampened those expectations.

It said she would "raise her concerns [on rule of law] with the [Polish] prime minister", adding "we expect all our partners to abide by international norms".

Italy and Sweden also lined up with the EU mainstream.

"The reform launched by the Warsaw government risks violating the rule of law," Italy's EU affairs minister, Sandro Gozi, said.

"We have confidence in the judgement of the commission," Anna Lind, the Swedish EU affairs minister, also said.

Duda's defiance

The Polish reforms, a set of 13 laws passed by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, would give it political control over courts and judges.

Poland's president, Andrzej Duda, vowed to sign into life two of the bills in defiance of commission appeals.

He repeated government lines - that the commission was acting on "political" motives to harm PiS, that Poland rejected EU "diktats", and that the reforms were needed to purge a Communist-era clique in the judiciary.

"I don't see a problem with parliament having more influence over who becomes a judge," he said.

Waldemar Zurek, a judge on Poland's constitutional tribunal, did see a problem.

He warned that other countries might refuse to recognise the validity of Polish court verdicts in future, prompting a breakdown in judicial cooperation.

But Zbigniew Ziobro, the Polish justice minister, said the EU clash would end in the commission backing down and in Poland being taken more seriously in future.

"Poland is one of the largest EU countries and we expect to be treated with respect, not like some messenger boy," he said.

Too big to fail?

Konrad Szymanski, the Polish EU affairs minister, also said Poland was too big to be sidelined.

He warned that the EU clash would "create a hitherto unseen distrust toward the European integration project" in Polish society.

For Donald Tusk, the EU Council head and a former Polish leader, that was exactly what PiS wanted.

"There's still a gigantic weight of hope in Brussels ... that Poland will remain in the Union," he said. "But I think those in power [in Poland] aren't enthusiastic, to speak delicately, about our EU membership," he said.

Tusk's former foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, went further, saying PiS was creating the kind of regime seen under Franco in Spain.

"That vision is unacceptable from the point of view of the European Union and must, sadly, lead to Polexit," he said.

Opinion

How powerful is Poland's Morawiecki?

The new prime minister of Poland is on a collision course with the EU Commission as well as his party. His debut appearance - and early departure - at last week's summit indicates his future is up in the air.

EU leaders still in search of migration plan

Select EU leaders met amid rising tension over migration, with Italy's PM, who had threatened to boycott the summit, putting forward a new plans to stop boats from leaving Libya.

Feature

EU and Turkey fight for 'lost generation'

Some 300,000 school-age Syrian children in Turkey are not enrolled in classes. Fears they may end up in sweatshops or forced to beg have triggered efforts by the EU, Unicef, and the Turkish government to keep them in school.

News in Brief

  1. Johnson slams 'dithering' May in resignation speech
  2. EU border guards to be sent to Macedonia
  3. Juncker investment plan exceeds target
  4. EU will reply 'tit for tat' to US trade measures
  5. EU Commission registers Brexit citizenship petition
  6. EU launches pre-accession probe for Albania and Macedonia
  7. Google faces multibillion euro EU fine for Android
  8. EU wants more guarantees from VW on Dieselgate fix

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us