Can the EU stop Poland's judicial reforms?

Despite all the warnings Poland's ruling PiS party is doggedly pursuing its controversial judicial reforms. The EU Commission has responded in kind and initiated another infringement proceeding. Some commentators see this as the right move to prevent further dismantling of democracy; for others this is inadmissible interference from abroad.

Open/close all quotes (PL) /

Germany shouldn't get involved

The pro-government news portal criticises German media and politicians for their commentaries on the Polish judicial reform:

“Is it not a sign of paranoia when former occupiers who unleashed a world war, killed one in five Poles, left our country in ruins; who had democracy rammed down their throats by the Allies, now think they can teach us democracy and are racking their brains over how to replace the democratically elected government with their protégé Donald Tusk, who is currently 'in exile'? ... Fanned by the Germans, Poland's artificial conflict with the EU is basically about unimplemented reforms in a situation that in fact doesn't differ at all from the legal norms applied in Germany. Only there it's called the 'legal order' while here it's called 'the dismantling of the rule of law'.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Stop the PiS's legislative power trip

Together with intellectuals and academics, French members of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy in Poland call in Le Monde for an end to the reforms:

“We don't want Poland to leave the EU. ... The country has contributed with conviction and intelligence to the construction of a new Europe, which today is in danger. There has been no shortage of disagreements either within the member states or between them. All European societies have Eurosceptic currents. But never, until now, has a Polish government questioned the principles of adhesion. That, however, is precisely what these laws threaten to do. They endanger the cohesion of Europe. The PiS's legislative power trip must come to an end.”

Newsweek Polska (PL) /

Hit them where it hurts

Newsweek believes the loss of voting rights doesn't scare Poland's politicians - rather the contrary:

“Political sanctions are seen in Brussels as the 'nuclear option' but they won't make any impression on the government. The pain threshold of [PiS leader] Kaczyński, [Foreign Minister] Waszczykowski, [and Defence Minister] Macierewicz is different to that of western European politicians. The political sanctions could even be happily exploited by the party propaganda machine for its paranoid anti-Europe campaign, which has been trying to convince the Poles for more than a year now that 'the European Commission is attacking Poland'. Only the combination of two types of sanctions [financial and political] would be more than an empty gesture.”

Novi list (HR) /

Sanctions could send the wrong message

Harsh punishment for Poland could hurt the wrong people, Novi list warns:

“There was already speculation in 2015 that the 'nuclear option' - as Article 7 is informally called - could be applied to Poland. ... Luckily, [Poland's current] policy faces the opposition of those Poles who are once again organising themselves in committees for the defence of democracy, which have now become the biggest popular movement since Solidarność in the 1980s. For that reason the EU must take care to ensure that any punitive measures against Poland don't discourage the very people who demonstrate on a daily basis for the rule of law and democracy in the country.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Poland part of the family despite everything

De Volkskrant welcomes the EU Commission's steps against Poland but hopes that it won't come to a break with Warsaw:

“Poland belongs to the European family despite all the cultural differences. Brussels should be smart and show understanding for the fact that due to their experiences with Moscow the Poles react hypersensitively to anything that looks like a dictate from Brussels. But it's also in the interests of Poland for the EU to prevent the PiS government from repeating the mistakes of the communist system. No one wants a return to the 'telephone justice' of the old past, in which all it took was one phone call from the party to change a judge's mind. We will see how much of an impact Europe's warning has. In any event it's a positive sign that President Andrzej Duda is unsure whether he should sign the bill.”

Politiken (DK) /

EU not a self-service restaurant

The EU must take a strict line, Politiken urges:

“What's at stake is the very soul of the EU: whether or not we take our common values seriously. That's why we must now answer rudeness with rudeness. The EU Commission is threatening to initiate Article 7 proceedings, but that requires unanimity. Poland, however, can count on Hungary's support. The EU must nonetheless take action. Denmark and the other EU countries should also consider the Belgian idea of limiting Poland's access to EU funding to show that the EU isn't a self-service restaurant. The past days have shown that time is running out.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Brussels must use all means at its disposal

Deutschlandfunk welcomes the tougher stance regarding Poland but sees the Commission in a dilemma:

“Those who bark must be able to bite in the end if nothing else works. But here Brussels could prove to be a toothless tiger. Infringement proceedings are comparatively easy to implement. But the withdrawal of voting rights under Article 7 will require unanimous approval by the 27 member states. And Hungary has already positioned itself - saying it won't support such a measure. … However, ultimately it's the political signal that counts. The Commission must use the instruments at its disposal, even if they won't suffice to stop the PiS. … It's about applying massive political pressure because the EU can't tolerate open violations of its laws by a member state.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

EU funds only for those who respect core values

The EU is now the only body that can put the government in Warsaw under real pressure, The Irish Times points out:

“Two external powers have the leverage to lean on Warsaw: the United States and the EU. Donald Trump, who delivered a speech in tune with the nativist inclinations of his hosts in Warsaw earlier this month, is clearly not up to the task. But Brussels can and should act. First it should use its power to initiate infringement proceedings over Poland's assault on the separation of powers. Then it should make clear that when talks begin on how to share out the smaller EU subsidy pie post-Brexit, respect for the EU's fundamental values will be a non-negotiable prerequisite.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

New rift between West and East

A rift between Western and Eastern Europe could result, warns De Volkskrant:

“The Iron Curtain is gone. A mental chasm has now taken its place. The governments in Warsaw and Budapest are ultra-conservative and ultra-nationalistic. … For them Brussels is 'the new Moscow', threatening their recently regained national sovereignty. … Poland and Hungary don't want to take in any Muslims either. They pose a threat to the homogeneous and Christian character of their societies, they say. This perception of reality is pretty different from that in Western Europe. … Now there's the danger of an escalation. Those who don't want to listen must be made to feel, Italy and other Western European member states are calling.”