Monday

18th Mar 2019

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.

... or 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.

News in Brief

  1. Blow for May as third vote on Brexit deal ruled out
  2. Three killed in possible 'terror' gun attack in Utrecht
  3. Third Brexit vote this week only if DUP will support it
  4. Germany's two largest banks confirm merger talks
  5. Serbian pro-democracy protests reach 15th week
  6. 'Yellow Vest' riots leave Paris shops vandalised
  7. European woman older when having first baby
  8. Majority of Germans want Merkel to stay on

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  3. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  6. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  11. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  12. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  2. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  5. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us