Monday

22nd Apr 2019

Poland accused of violating EU visa systems

  • EU passport-free travel rules were agreed in Schengen, Luxembourg in 1985 (Photo: Attila Nemeth)

Poland is abusing EU visa systems to punish government critics, an activist has said, in a case which highlights Europe's loss of trust in Warsaw.

"The EU has to establish an effective legal and practical mechanism to prevent future abuse of the SIS by illiberal, oppressive governments of its member states," Lyudmyla Kozlovska, a Ukrainian human rights activist, said at a meeting in the European Parliament (EP) in Brussels on Wednesday (26 September).

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

  • Kozlovska (l) says PiS attacked her due to her husband's activism (Photo: UNDP)

The Schengen Information System (SIS) is a database that governs who can enter the EU's passport-free 'Schengen area'.

Kozlovska spoke after Poland red-flagged her in the system citing secret intelligence that her NGO, the Open Dialogue Foundation in Ukraine, had received Russian funding.

But she says they did it to punish her husband, Bartosz Kramek, a Polish activist, who had called for anti-government protests on Facebook.

"We had not had any problems nor disputes with the Polish authorities earlier, before my husband's article in 2017, so we are convinced this situation ... has to be of a political nature," she said in Brussels.

"Kozlovska is a true fighter for an open, tolerant and just European society. Her case and activity sheds light on the work we must pursue to promote the rule of law in the European Union," Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, who now heads the liberal Alde group in the parliament and who invited her to Brussels, said on Twitter.

The case caused a diplomatic incident on Tuesday when the Polish foreign ministry summoned Belgium's ambassador to Warsaw to issue a formal complaint that its SIS alert had been ignored.

"The decision of the Belgian authorities poses a threat to the Schengen zone's security," the Polish foreign ministry said in a statement.

MEPs from Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party joined the attack.

"When one European Union country pranks another by inviting someone who is considered persona non grata, that is not building European solidarity," Ryszard Czarnecki said.

Verhofstadt was "an anti-Polish politician and when he has the opportunity to attack Poland, he takes it," Czarnecki added.

The Belgian row comes after Germany, on 13 September, also ignored Poland's SIS alert by giving Kozlovska a visa to attend a meeting in the Bundestag.

"It is unacceptable for Poland to prevent a meeting between members of the Bundestag and a human rights activist," Frank Schwabe, a German MP, said at the time.

"The core of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact remains relevant," a commentator on the PiS-controlled Polish state broadcaster, TVP, said at the time, lambasting Berlin's decision.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was a deal between Germany and Russia to invade Poland in World War II.

Breakdown

The SIS dispute is the latest sign of a breakdown in trust between the EU mainstream and Poland's rightwing rulers.

Irish authorities recently declined to extradite a Polish national after Poland had issued a European Arrest Warrant on grounds he might not face a fair trial at home due to PiS meddling in the Polish judiciary.

The European Commission last year also launched a sanctions procedure against Poland over PiS' "systematic" abuse of EU laws and values.

It filed a case against Poland at the EU's highest court on Monday over PiS' purge of unfriendly judges via a hotly-disputed forced retirement law.

That came on top of another case on Poland's decision to ignore an EU Council vote on sharing asylum seekers.

According to SIS rules, member states can issue an alert if a person has been convicted by an EU country of an offence punishable by at least one year in prison, or "has committed serious criminal offences or concerning whom there are clear indications of an intention to commit such offences on the territory of a member state".

The Kozlovska red flag did not meet those criteria.

It might also have violated her right to family life (being with her husband in Poland) and to freedom of expression under the European Convention of Human Rights, a 1950s European treaty.

Free speech

Kozlovska exercised her right to free speech on Tuesday by hammering PiS in the EP.

"The ruling party, Law and Justice ... [was] dismantling the constitutional order by seizing control of institutions that should always remain independent from the legislative and executive power", she said on Poland's judicial meddling.

PiS had also issued more than 2,000 legal proceedings against civil rights activists in Poland since it came to power, she noted.

"Censorship and propaganda in the state-controlled media [was] on a level unseen since communist times," she said.

"This abuse of SIS can even violate European treaties, primarily the principle of sincere cooperation," Kozlovska added.

"The fate of the European Union, as we know it, is at stake," she said.

Poland to face EU top court on rule of law

The EU commission is expected to refer Poland to the EU's top court over firing supreme court judges, but Warsaw refused to commit on Tuesday that it will implement future EU court rulings.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us