Wednesday

26th Sep 2018

Polish PM defends judicial witch-hunt

  • Juncker declined to go head-to head with Morawicki in the EP (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Poland's judicial purge was designed to punish former communist stooges, its government has argued, as the EU debate with Warsaw gets angrier by the day.

The kind of people whose verdicts in the 1980s led to jail terms and deaths of personal friends of Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki were still sitting in the country's Supreme Court (SC) and had to go, he told MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday (4 July).

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

"Some of the judges from the martial law period who handed down shameful verdicts … are in the Supreme Court and you're defending them - do you know that?", he said, referring to a period of military rule in Poland between 1981 and 1983.

"Post-communism has not been beaten down yet, and that's what we are doing with our reform of the judiciary," he said.

The debate took place amid raw nerves both in Warsaw and in EU institutions.

Tens of thousands of protesters rallied in the Polish capital the same day in support of Maria Gersdorf, the SC president, who is being forced into retirement under the new law.

She went to work as normal, citing her mandate under the Polish constitution, but Morawiecki's government, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, said its measures trumped the national charter.

Billed as part of regular talks on "the future of Europe", the EU parliament debate went off script into nasty territory.

The European Commission is taking Poland to court to halt the forced SC retirements and has triggered a sanctions process, under Article 7 of EU treaty, that could see Poland's EU voting rights suspended.

Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker sent a deputy (Latvia's commissioner) in his place on Wednesday, ducking the confrontation.

Juncker's spokesman said he was back in Brussels after having gone to Strasbourg on Tuesday. Frans Timmermans, his top deputy, was also too busy to attend, but EP seats were full of MEPs hurling insults and EP head Antonio Tajani lost his temper at one point.

Morawiecki, a former investment banker, is the suave face of PiS, whose party ranks include more belligerent types.

He listened poker-faced to accusations that PiS was destroying the independence of the judiciary, oppressing free speech, fiddling electoral laws, and attacking Muslims, women, and gay rights.

None of that was true, he said, using the anodyne jargon that judicial reform was a "national competence" under the "acquis communautaire".

"We've been a little bit disappointed by the commission's stance so far," he added.

His remarks on "post-communist" judges was a rare and frank admission that PiS was acting on political motives.

It was also the closest he came to showing emotion, but other PiS and pro-PiS MEPs did not hold back.

PiS and friends

The EU parliament was full of "Poland-bashing" based on "idiotic stories" and "self-serving arrogance," Morawiecki's fellow PiS MEP, Ryszard Legutko, said with a clenched fist.

Those comments were taken by parliament chief, Italian politician Antonio Tajani, as an insinuation that he had previously disciplined a far-right Polish MEP because Tajani hated Poles.

"I will not accept statements that someone is inferior because they're a woman, or they come from a Jewish origin," Tajani said, getting hot under the collar, after he suspended Janusz Korwin-Mikke, over a sexist rant last year. The Polish deputy is also a Holocaust denier.

Morawiecki's noisy allies included British Brexiteers, the French far-right, and other fringe Poles, highlighting how far from the mainstream PiS had drifted.

The EU was a secret German plan to rule Europe after it "lost the shooting war [WWII]," Gerard Batten, a British eurosceptic MEP said.

PiS was fighting EU "nihilism opposed to the rule of God," French far-right MEP Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, thundered.

The EU was "fighting Christianity" by forcing Poland to take in a "flood of Muslims" and by promoting "homosexual rights", Polish right-winger Stanislaw Zoltek said.

The leaders of the EP's senior groups - the centre-right EPP, the centre-left S&D, and the liberal Alde - spoke of Poland's noble place in the history of European democracy, not least its anti-Nazi and anti-communist resistance.

They made personal appeals to Morawiecki, but also voiced dismay at his polite obstinacy.

"You missed an opportunity today," EPP chief Manfred Weber said.

Weber said he was reluctant, as a German national, to speak out in case PiS "propaganda" turned into a story of German diktats, but he accused Warsaw of going down the path of "egoism and nationalism".

PiS judicial reforms bore "a striking resemblance to the institutions which existed in the Soviet Union," liberal leader, Belgium's Guy Verhofstadt, said, quoting a report by the Venice Commission, a European democracy watchdog.

He tried to hit another Polish nerve by saying that division in Europe served Russian president Vladimir Putin at a time when Russia, China, and the US were craving out a new world order.

MEPs egg on protests

The EPP, the SPD, the Greens, and the far-left GUE group encouraged anti-PiS protesters in Warsaw.

"I applaud [SC judge] professor Gersdorf - a strong, proud, patriotic Polish woman," the S&D's Ana Gomes, from Portugal, said.

"Listen to these women's cries. Maybe you can't hear them because of the tolling of church bells," Tania Gonzalez Penas, an Irish MEP from GUE said, zeroing in on other protests against a PiS anti-abortion law.

Poland was being led "by a traumatised, angry old man … from the 21st back to the 19th century," German EPP member Michael Galler added, referring to PiS party chief, and Poland's de facto ruler, 68-year old Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

"It was lively," Tajani, the parliament chief, said of the debate, as the scene shifts back to the EU commission's legal action.

PM pinned down

But liberal MEP and Dutch politician, Sophie in 't Veld, did pin down Morawiecki on one thing before he jiggled his files and left the room.

"If you lose the case in the European Court of Justice [on halting the judicial purge] when it rules, will you acknowledge the authority of the court?", she said.

"Yes or no?", Verhofstadt yelled.

"To answer: Of course Poland respects the judgements of the European court," Morawiecki said.

Poland urged to halt 'purge' of top court

Next month Supreme Court judges could be removed in Poland - due to a controversial reform seen as a judicial purge by a government that wants to control the courts. The European Commission wants Warsaw to act now.

Opinion

While Poles defend courts, Kaczynski hijacks EU elections

While Twitter and EU bubble publications are flooded with photos of protesting crowds and "chains of light" in front of the presidential palace, the Law and Justice-controlled senate has adopted a law restructuring the electoral code for 2019's European elections.

News in Brief

  1. EU to have coordinated plan on AI by December
  2. No UK election before Brexit, says May
  3. Former French PM wants to be mayor of Barcelona
  4. Merkel's wingman in surprise defeat in internal party vote
  5. Orban sends thank-you letters to supportive MEPs
  6. UN chief: World suffering from 'trust deficit disorder'
  7. Stalemate in Sweden as parliament ousts prime minister
  8. Migrant rescue ship heading to French port

Opinion

Building a Europe more resilient to terrorism

One year to the day since the terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, the commissioner for home affairs spells out what action the EU is taking now to protect against further attacks.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. World upside down as EU and Russia unite against US
  2. EU court delivers transparency blow on MEP expenses
  3. Russian with Malta passport in money-laundering probe
  4. Cyprus: Russia's EU weak link?
  5. Missing signature gaffe for Azerbaijan gas pipeline
  6. Every major city in Europe is getting warmer
  7. No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected
  8. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  2. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  4. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  5. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  7. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  9. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  12. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us