Let’s Tune In To The EU’s Periphery: Polish Government Suffers Resistance From EU And Citizens

Let’s Tune In To The EU’s Periphery: Polish Government Suffers Resistance From EU And Citizens

Nicholas Zalewski
Half a million people showed up to protest in Warsaw against the government. Source: Wojtek Radanski/ AFP/ Getty images

Poland is one of two member states that has been at odds constantly with the European Union over the past several years. This is because of concerns about democratic backsliding within the nation. This however was not only the case and Poland was once the poster child for democratic transition. Recently the European Court of Justice announced its final judgment on the case and ruled that Poland had to change more elements of the judicial reforms it did in 2019. The ruling party of Poland, Law and Justice (known by the acronym PiS in Polish) also faced a large protest in the capital due to proposed legislation. The European Commission has also opened an infringement procedure against Poland. This may cause PiS to have difficulties winning the parliamentary election later this year.

Poland’s Fight With The European Union Over Rule Of Law

On June 5th, the European Court of Justice released its ruling against Poland’s 2019 judicial reform. If Poland were to not respect the verdict and tried to attempt to avoid undoing the judicial reforms struck down by the court, Poland may face more fines. Following a ruling by the court in 2021, Poland was ordered to pay a million euros a day, later reduced to 500,000 euros this past April when the Polish government undid some of the reforms. Besides this financial penalty, Poland has not been able to access 35.5 billion euros of funds from the European Union in order to help the nation financially recover from the pandemic.

While the court case is the latest in the ongoing rule of law dispute between the European Union and Poland, it is certainly not the first. Instead, this battle started in 2015 when PiS won the majority in the Sejm (Poland’s parliament) and President Duda refused to swear in five judges to the Constitutional Court who were nominated by Civic Platform when they still had the majority in the Sejm before the election that year.  

Polish citizens in Warsaw proposing the commission before it went into effect. Source: Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Wyborcza.pl/Reuters

Citizens Protest Against Government

Besides the European Union being concerned about actions taken by the government, so are citizens who oppose PiS. Donald Tusk, a former Prime Minister of Poland and President of the European Council, one of the institutions of the European Union organized the protest. It is estimated half a million people participated in the march which also coincided with the 34th anniversary of the election that brought down communism in Poland.

The protest is a result of a commission created by the Sejm tasked with researching Russian influence on Polish security. The commission is controversial due to having a lot of power including the ability to strip a citizen of the right to hold public office for ten years, if found to make political decisions under Russian interference. There is concern that the commission will abuse its power to ban Donald Tusk from political office in order to eliminate a major contender against PiS in the upcoming election. The European Union and the United States have both been critical of the commission. The commission went into effect May 31st and is investigating Russian influence in Poland between 2007 and 2022.

The European Commission opened up an infringement procedure against Poland for the violation of EU law due to the commission created to deal with Russian influence in Poland. The European Commission alleges that the commission established by Poland violates the principle of democracy, the principles of legality and non-retroactivity of sanctions, the rights to effective judicial protection, and the EU’s GDRP which protects personal data. Poland must respond within 21 calendar days and if it does not address the grievances mentioned by the European Commission, the infringement process may continue to proceed with a reasoned opinion by the European Commission. The European Commission originally issued a statement to Poland on may 3oth and recieved a reply on June 1st and Poland’s government made some modifications but not enough to satisfy the European Commission which explains why it chose to start an infringement procedure against the member state.

2019 parliamentary election results in Poland. Source: Warsaw Institute

Close Election This Year

For PiS, the current circumstances are challenging. While it finds itself in hot water with the European Union, it also has to appease citizens if it wants to be successful in the next election. Interestingly enough, PiS holds a 5-point lead as of June 6th against Civic Platform despite the conflicts PiS has with the European Union meanwhile the majority of Polish citizens support the nation’s membership in the EU. Currently, this would mean PiS would not have enough seats in parliament to rule alone. If PiS wins, this will be the third straight election it wins. In order to convince voters to reelect the party, PiS will receive 800 PLN (177 euro) per child every month until the child turns 18, a 60% increase from the current 500 PLN (11o euros) families receive per child. This benefit helped PiS win the election in 2015 and is called “Family 500 Plus” by PiS. Family 500 Plus currently costs the Polish government 40 billion PLN (8.85 billion euros) a year. The government also plans to abolish tolls on any highway that the national government owns. As inflation in Poland is higher than in most EU member states, it is important for the government to find a way to help citizens.

The outcome of the election can determine whether or not Poland will remain at odds constantly with the European Union, or elect Donald Tusk to once again be prime minister of Poland. As former President of the European Council it is unlikely that Tusk would cause problems for the European Union. It is important to remember however that Poland has a semi-presidential government. Even if Donald Tusk wins, Civic Platform would need to secure 3/5 of MPs to override a presidential veto. As the current president, Andrej Duda is also a member of PiS, Donald Tusk, and Civic Platform would be limited in what they could accomplish. At the same time, if PiS wins again Prime Minister Mateusz Moraciewcz may keep the government in line with the European Union legislation to avoid costly fines from the European Union. 575 million euros is a lot of money that could have gone to Poland’s economic development and the overall goal of economic convergence with Germany. While member states may not agree with every aspect of the European Union, they must still respect European Union legislation. If not they may face a costly punishment as Poland has learned.

Please read The Following For More Information:

Casert, Raf. “EU top court says that Poland’s justice reform infringes EU law” AP News 5 June 2023

WOJCIECH, KOŚĆ “Half a million march in Warsaw against Poland’s ruling party” Politico 4 June 2023

Rule of Law: Commission launches infringement procedure against POLAND for violating EU law with the new law establishing a special committee” European Commission June 8 2023

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