Polexit ruling could be defining moment of Ursula von der Leyen’s European Commission Presidency, argues Daniel Freund

Rule of Law in Europe is in crisis, and little has been done by the Commission to defend it, writes German Greens/EFA MEP
The Constitutional Tribunal sign is seen on April 15, 2021 in Warsaw, Poland. Credit: Aleksander Kalka/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News

By Daniel Freund

12 Oct 2021

Last week, the long-awaited judgment of Poland’s so-called Constitutional Tribunal sent shockwaves throughout Europe.

The Tribunal, stacked with judges close to the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) Party, found that Polish law takes precedence over European law. This puts into question the primacy of European over national law - a cornerstone of European integration.

Should it become legally binding, Poland will be saying goodbye to the European legal order. In that case, there must be financial consequences.

Without a European legal order, there can be no payment of EU funds. European money can only be spent according to European rules.

One way to enforce this is by using the Common Provisions Regulation. This regulation allows us to immediately freeze all subsidy payments to Poland. In fact, it would even allow the Commission to do this unilaterally, without a vote in the Council.

Apart from that, the approval of the Polish national recovery plan by the Commission is now an absolute taboo. We cannot transfer billions of euros of taxpayer money to an EU Member State, if we cannot make sure it reaches those for whom it is intended.

"The court decision in Warsaw came as no surprise. It is, among other things, the result of a Commission that has, for far too long, refused to stand up decisively for the protection of the Rule of Law in the European Union"

The court decision in Warsaw came as no surprise. It is, among other things, the result of a Commission that has, for far too long, refused to stand up decisively for the protection of the Rule of Law in the European Union.

For months, it has had the Rule of Law Conditionality Mechanism at its disposal; an effective instrument with which it should have reacted to the democratic backsliding in Poland.

Yet, it was the Commission itself, together with the German Council Presidency, that had struck the much-criticised deal that rendered the mechanism useless for almost an entire year. Instead, Ursula von der Leyen and her Commission chose dialogue, as they did also with Budapest.

The result of this approach can be seen in Hungary, Slovenia and now, again, in Poland. Dialogue with enemies of the Rule of Law does not work.

On the contrary: the Commission’s inaction has emboldened them to cross even more red lines. Time and time again, the European Parliament has urged the Commission to let its words be followed by actions. We even had to threaten to take the Commission to the Court of Justice to finally act upon its promises.

But still, to this date, nothing has been done to stop the erosion of the Rule of Law in Europe. Not a single letter of notification has been sent to Budapest or Warsaw.

"For the European Commission this is a loud and clear imperative: They must act! The upcoming weeks will be the defining ones of Ursula von der Leyen’s presidency. The Rule of Law in Europe is in crisis. And little has been done by the Commission to defend it"

The only way forward now is a decisive change of course by the Commission and Member States in their commitment to the Rule of Law, European values and democracy. The European Parliament has continued to hold out its hand. It is time to take it. Nothing less than the very foundations of our Union are at stake.

Hundreds of thousands of European citizens took to the streets of Polish cities and towns last weekend. Their message - “We want to stay” - must be heard in Brussels, especially by Ursula von der Leyen.

For the European Commission this is a loud and clear imperative: They must act! The upcoming weeks will be the defining ones of Ursula von der Leyen’s presidency. The Rule of Law in Europe is in crisis. And little has been done by the Commission to defend it.

If the current strategy of cautiousness prevails, more and more European citizens will grow impatient and the violators of the rule of law in our Union will grow bolder.

It’s time for Europe to deliver. It’s time to protect our citizens. It’s time to defend the rule of law.

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