Friday

19th Apr 2019

Opinion

End of the line for Warsaw Express?

  • A strong and independent judiciary is vital to ensure the corrupt are brought to justice (Photo: Scott*)

There’s an old rhyme in Poland and Hungary which roughly translates as: “Pole and Hungarian cousins, be good for fight and good for party.”

The friendship between the two countries stems from centuries of facing off against the same struggles and enemies.

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

In recent years, the term “the Warsaw Express” has been used to refer to the similarities in their political developments: the transition from Communism and the expansion of Nato and the European Union eastwards.

Today the Warsaw Express is racing in a worrying direction.

The recently elected Polish government has started a series of reforms, similar to those introduced by Victor Orban’s “illiberal” Hungarian government, to limit press freedom and compromise judicial independence.

European Commission first vice-president Frans Timmermans has announced the commission will take unprecedented action in investigating the changes in Poland.

Transparency International, the global anti-corruption organisation, would say this doesn’t go far enough.

The commission, learning from its experience with Hungary, has moved much faster to put Poland on the spot, but it has not condemned its actions.

Press freedom

Press freedom and access to information are not only pillars of democratic societies but pre-requisites for tackling corruption.

The press acts as a public watchdog on the abuse of power, secret dealings and bribery.

The new media law in Poland would bring the widely followed public media under direct government control. The treasury minister can appoint and dismiss the management and supervisory boards of the public TV and radio channels at will.

This is following the Hungarian playbook where the 2010 Media Law and subsequent moves against freedom of information have severely undermined scrutiny of the Orban government.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) claims Hungary is now the “most egregious practitioner of controlled press.” That epithet may soon include Poland.

It’s not just a free press that is required to prevent the abuse of power for private gain.

Corruption flourishes wherever there is impunity for wrongdoing.

Independent judiciary

A strong and independent judiciary is vital to ensure the corrupt are brought to justice.

Which is why it is alarming that the Polish PiS party has rushed through legislation which brings into question the independence of the country’s highest court.

The 15-seat constitutional court now requires a two-thirds majority, rather than a simple majority to pass judgments.

The PiS-aligned president Andrzej Duda also blocked the appointment to the court of five judges selected by the previous government.

His replacements will give the PiS the ability to strike down legislation it deems unconstitutional, thereby limiting the court’s capacity to check legislative overreach.

The rule of law and freedom of expression are core tenants of the EU treaties.

Timmermans says: “Our aim [in starting an inquiry] is to solve this issue, not to enter into a polemic.”

The EU has now trigerred what it calls its “rule-of-law mechanism,” which, if followed through, could eventually see a member state stripped of EU Council voting rights. Hungary has already said it will veto such a move.

This posturing should not stop the European Union from following a robust inquiry into Poland’s drift towards autocracy.

The EU must ensure, from Warsaw to Budapest and beyond, that space for civil society, judicial independence, and freedom of expression is protected. All of these elements are vital in the fight against corruption.

The values of transparent and accountable public institutions and a democratic system of checks and balances should be central to all governments.

The EU, civil society and the media must ensure that “Pole and Hungarian cousins be” are also ready to fight corruption instead of judicial independence and freedom of speech.

Carl Dolan is director of the Transparency International's liaison office to the European Union

EU commission puts Poland on the hook

The EU commission has triggered rule-of-law monitoring of Poland, in an unprecedented step, prompted by constitutional and media reforms. The move follows a nasty exchange of letters.

EUobserved

How to build an illiberal democracy in the EU

With Brussels increasingly worried by Poland, we take a look how Hungary's Viktor Orban created a template for dismantling democratic checks and balances inside an EU state.

How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament

British plans to - maybe - take part in EU elections risk legal chaos in the next European Parliament, which could be resolved only by treaty change - an unlikely prospect.

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

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