From the point of view of the European Union, Hungary and Poland have a problem with the rule of law. It is therefore cutting their money. The states are now suing the European Court of Justice against this. Meanwhile, it is becoming apparent that the Polish population is afraid of leaving the EU.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg deals with the actions of Poland and Hungary against the new EU rule of law mechanism. At the start of the negotiations, Poland demanded the lifting of the mechanism that enables the EU to cut European funds in the event that member states violate the rule of law. In view of the ongoing legal battles between your government and the EU, tens of thousands of people across Poland demonstrated on Sunday evening for the country to remain in the EU.
The rule of law mechanism violates the EU treaties and must “be declared null and void in its entirety,” said Poland’s lawyer Sylwia Zyrek at the start of the hearing. Hungary’s plaintiff, Miklos Zoltan Feher, described the mechanism as unnecessary because the “existing legal framework can protect the Union’s budget”. The lawyers of the EU institutions rejected the criticism of the two EU member states.
The rule of law mechanism protects the EU budget, said lawyer Tamas Lukacsi, who represents the EU Parliament in the proceedings. Maintaining the rule of law is an essential prerequisite “for sound financial management”. A judgment by the Luxembourg court is not expected for a few months. The new EU rule of law mechanism has been in force since the beginning of this year. However, the EU member states had agreed to wait for the opinion of the ECJ before the mechanism is applied by the EU Commission. This caused criticism in the EU Parliament. The Green European politician Franziska Brantner also called on the EU Commission to immediately activate the rule of law mechanism, “so that the EU finally has a sharp sword in its hand to defend the fundamental European values”. With their lawsuit before the ECJ, Poland and Hungary were playing “for a limited period”, she criticized.
Court seals “legal polexit”
The governments in Budapest and Warsaw have for years been criticized for violating the rule of law. Criminal proceedings are pending against both countries, which could lead to the withdrawal of voting rights in the EU. So far, however, this has not resulted in any significant changes in course. Last week, a ruling by the Polish Supreme Court fueled the dispute between Warsaw and Brussels. The Constitutional Court in Warsaw challenged the primacy of EU law over Polish law by declaring several articles in the EU treaties “incompatible” with the country’s constitution. Experts then spoke of a “legal polexit”.
The court decision is not final until the government officially publishes it. On Sunday evening tens of thousands of people demonstrated in numerous Polish cities for the country to remain in the EU and against the controversial ruling of the Constitutional Court. Former EU Council President Donald Tusk from the opposition Civic Platform (PO) called for the protests. In front of a sea of demonstrators with EU flags in Warsaw, Tusk shouted: “Tens of thousands of people in Warsaw and over 100 cities across Poland have come to protest what this government is doing to our homeland.” He called on the people to “defend a European Poland”.
The demonstrators lit up Warsaw’s old town with their mobile phones. Many sang the Polish national anthem and shouted: “We’re staying!” According to surveys, a large majority of Poles still support membership in the EU. The government itself has officially ruled out leaving the EU. Poland’s place is “in the European family of nations”, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki emphasized after the judgment of the Warsaw Constitutional Court. Poland cannot be “treated like a second-rate country,” he added.
Relations between Warsaw and Brussels have been strained since the right-wing nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) came to power in 2015. At the center of the dispute are judicial reforms promoted by the PiS, which from the EU’s point of view undermine the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers. The EU Commission has already initiated several proceedings against Poland in the legal dispute. As a means of pressure, she has so far withheld a total of 57 billion euros from the Corona aid fund for Poland. Because of disregard of a ruling by the ECJ, Warsaw is also threatened with a fine of several million euros per day.