There’s currently a lull in the tense Rule of Law stand-off between the EU and Poland, with both sides waiting to see when the European Court of Justice (CJEU) will begin imposing daily fines on Warsaw as requested by the European Commission last week, and for the hearing of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal which will rule on the primacy of EU law next week.
However, on Wednesday afternoon in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the issue, or rather the issues, because media freedom and discrimination of the LGBTIQ community in Poland were also subjects of the debate, reached the plenary.
The current mindset of the Polish government on how to react to the CJEU’s rulings was aptly illustrated by Commission’s Vice President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová, who in opening the debate recalled the case of the Polish judge who had tried to implement the CJEU’s prescribed interim measures.
Said judge was persecuted for his efforts by the Polish Supreme Court’s notorious Disciplinary Chamber – which was officially declared illegal according to EU law in July.
Only a week ago, Poland’s Minister of Justice had suspended the judge for a month. If ever a definition of brazen was needed, this would do very nicely, and it is also easy to imagine that any hesitation on the part of the European Commission to hold back with the money stick was, at that precise moment, buried.
Of course, this was not the first time Poland has been debated in the plenary chamber and as MEPs debated their resolution on media freedom and the further deterioration of the Rule of law in Poland, the Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee chair, Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D) duly began his speech saying, “Poland again, goodness me. Once again, Poland!”.
"Only a week ago, Poland’s Minister of Justice had suspended the judge for a month. If ever a definition of brazen was needed, this would do very nicely, and it is also easy to imagine that any hesitation on the part of the European Commission to hold back with the money stick was, at that precise moment, buried"
It equally allowed Jadwiga Wiśniewska, speaking for the ECR Group and the Polish government, to open her speech by calling the issue a “never ending story. Again and again, we hear the same objections, the same claims that the Rule of Law has been violated”, she lamented.
But the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) Party deputy stopped short of any concrete rebuttal, only referencing the Article 7 sanction process against Poland as having not been concluded yet, thereby demonstrating the notion that CJEU rulings don’t really matter when they go against her country’s government, only when they go in its favour, as was the case with Nordstream 2.
And what about discrimination against citizens who fall foul of the “traditional and conservative” - as the Polish government likes to call it - gender and sexual orientation categories that even the current Pope would be unlikely to accept?
“There are no LGBTIQ-free zones in Poland, it’s a lie”, announced Wiśniewska.” Really? Well, perhaps not in the strict sense of enforced no-go areas, which is what she seemed to imply.
However, while outright persecution might indeed not be practised yet, a quick look on the web will tell you from more than just two reliable sources (the BBC standard for verification) that the rural southeast of the country is littered with administrative regions and communes proudly having declared themselves as such or, after the initial, equally well documented international outcry, as “LGBT-ideology free zones”.
Wiśniewska made even shorter shrift of the media freedom issue saying, “You want to talk about the Polish media? Fine. There is no problem with the Polish media.” End of story as far as PiS is concerned, in what must count as one of the most outlandish whataboutery defences from the far right in the Parliament’s history.
"Former Polish deputy ombudsman Sylwia Spurek (Greens/EFA) found the words for the road ahead when she said: “I would like to be able to say that this will be last time that we talk about the situation in Poland, but I am very much afraid that I cannot promise you that today, so I apologise”
German AfD MEP Nicolaus Fest tried to convince the house that, when it came to media freedom and pluralism, it wasn’t Poland who had the problem: “The German public broadcaster is completely Green/Left-Wing dominated and only broadcasts government propaganda”, he claimed.
However, he conveniently omitted that the German public broadcast system had been designed by the British after the war with the BBC in mind, and that its governing council is meticulously balanced between all political parties - except the AfD, of course, who are under constant observation by the federal Agency for the Protection of the Constitution for neo-Nazi contacts and sympathies.
His colleague Gunnar Beck tried the same conjurer’s trick on the Rule of Law, intriguingly, in an English accent that would not have sounded amiss in the senior common room at Eton, ca. 1950.
The attacks on the Polish judiciary were misplaced, he argued, and Polish reforms contrasted positively to the reality in Germany, where public prosecutors are not independent, and judges are allowed to be members of political parties.
This would probably explain why Germany ranks sixth on the World Justice Project’s 2020 Rule of Law index, behind Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands, whereas Poland ranks 28th, just edging in front of Barbados and the United Arab Emirates. Nothing like fake news delivered in an old fashioned posh English accent by a German right-wing extremist to make one’s day.
But one mustn’t let oneself be taken over by too much merriment. This has been and remains one of the Union’s most troubling and dangerous crises and, as is well known, it does not stop at Poland.
As Parliament Vice-President Roberta Metsola put it, after having delivered a passionate appraisal of the Polish revolution of the late 1980s: “We in Europe know how slippery the slope can be when loyalty to the party is put above loyalty for the nation, above meritocracy, above truth.”
Former Polish deputy ombudsman Sylwia Spurek (Greens/EFA) found the words for the road ahead when she said: “I would like to be able to say that this will be last time that we talk about the situation in Poland, but I am very much afraid that I cannot promise you that today, so I apologise.”