Monday

19th Nov 2018

Opinion

Left unchecked, Poland's attack on rights will harm EU

  • PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski greets Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo in parliament (Photo: pis.org.pl)

Since it came into power in October 2015, Poland's ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) has gone to great lengths to dismantle the fundamental checks and balances against government abuse of power on which functioning democracies depend.

In a democracy the need to protect people's rights imposes limits on government power and in the event those safeguards don't prevent rights violations, it should be possible to get redress through independent courts.

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

  • Warsaw: Polish government has ignored all three EU recommendations (Photo: Kamil Porembinski)

Yet the Warsaw government has misused its democratic mandate and parliamentary majority to chip away aspects of these basic legal protections.

In a report released on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch shows how over the past two years, Poland's ruling party has sought to bring the country's top courts and judicial appointments under its control.

It has introduced legislation that curbs media freedom, further restricted women's reproductive rights by banning the morning-after pill, granted excessive and arbitrary surveillance powers for combatting terrorism to its secret service agency, violated asylum seekers' rights at the Belarus border, limited freedom of assembly, and sought to restrict funding to nongovernmental groups.

Poland - EU's problem child?

The government's moves are not just policy choices or academic questions.

They undermine the rights of everyone in Poland. At some stage everyone may need to turn to independent institutions, such as the courts, prosecutors and police, to safeguard their rights and interests. It could be that they are the victim of a bad landlord, an abusive employer, or of crime, but they should be able to rely on the system to protect them.

The key regional experts and institutions with which Poland is affiliated, including the European Commission, Council of Europe's Venice Commission, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the European Court of Human Rights, have raised concerns and urged the government to change course.

But to compound the problem, Poland's government has dismissed the criticism, citing national sovereignty, and largely ignored their recommendations.

Ordinary citizens should be able to trust their governments to respect basic rights such as free speech, freedom of assembly, and privacy.

People should expect that a democratically-elected government will seek to work within the rule of law rather than actively to undermine it.

Particularly when their government is an EU member, as Poland is, citizens should expect the government to follow EU law that requires respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law as founding values of the Union.

If that is not happening, then it's essential for the EU to do something about it. The European Commission and European Parliament have rightly called on Warsaw to change its course.

Warsaw is not listening

In 2016, the Commission for the first time triggered a process designed to address systemic threats to the rule of law in member states. As part of this process, known as the 'rule of law mechanism', the Commission has issued the Polish government three sets of recommendations.

One was around the need to roll back a law paralysing the work of the constitutional tribunal, the second was to drop measures that interfere with the independence of the judiciary, and the third addressed political influence in appointing and dismissing judges at the common courts. The Polish government has ignored all three.

The Polish government's actions don't just pose a domestic threat. They threaten the values of the European Union itself and undermine the credibility of its efforts to promote human rights around the world.

We have already witnessed how the EU's failure to take serious action against Hungary when its government systematically implemented policies that undermine democratic and human rights safeguards, helped embolden Poland's leaders to do the same.

The Commission should take the next step under the rule of law procedure and trigger Article 7(1) of the EU treaty.

Ultimately, if the Polish government doesn't change course, it could result in the suspension of the country's voting rights in the EU Council. Both the European Parliament and EU member states in the Council should support the Commission's move.

No less than the credibility of the Union itself is at stake.

Lydia Gall is the Balkans and eastern Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, a New York-based NGO

Interview

Poland ready to be EU budget net contributor

Poland would accept increasing its contribution, but will oppose any politicisation of EU funds, says its deputy minister of economic development.

Article 7 not mentioned in Poland probe update

While Polish president Andrzej Duda proposes amendments to further increase political control over the judiciary, EU ministers voice support for the rule of law, but make no mention of the Article 7 sanctions.

Panic is not answer to EU's security challenges

EU foreign ministers must choose between contaminating their civilian missions and operations with panic over security and migration, and reaffirming the EU's core values as a global actor for peace and development.

News in Brief

  1. Ireland extradites Polish man despite rule of law concerns
  2. Germany and France agree eurozone budget framework
  3. Austrian foreign minister: EU's Israel policy 'too strict'
  4. Soros and Kurz discuss Central European University move
  5. EU set to tighten rules on foreign strategic investment
  6. Macron repeats call for unified Europe in Bundestag speech
  7. US warns EU banks and firms against trading with Iran
  8. Merkel urged Romania not to move embassy to Jerusalem

Why 'Spitzenkandidat' is probably here to stay

The power of the parliament to 'appoint' the president of the EU Commission is new, highly-contested - and not universally understood. In fact, even some of the lead candidates to replace Jean-Claude Juncker are against it.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Whistleblower: Danske Bank gag stops me telling more
  2. Spain raises Gibraltar, as EU and UK talk post-2020 relationship
  3. Panic is not answer to EU's security challenges
  4. Dutch flesh out proposal for EU human rights sanctions
  5. EU cheerleaders go to Russia-occupied Ukraine
  6. EU must recognise new force for Balkans destabilisation
  7. Brexit dominates EU affairs This WEEK
  8. How the EU commission got tunnel vision on self-driving cars

Stakeholders' Highlights

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

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us