Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Why Poland Is a Threat to the European Union: Stuart McMillan Warns That the Polish Law and Justice Party's Policies May Have Serious Consequences

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Why Poland Is a Threat to the European Union: Stuart McMillan Warns That the Polish Law and Justice Party's Policies May Have Serious Consequences

Article excerpt

The Law and Justice Party in Poland is pursuing policies, including legal ones, putting it at odds with most of the rest of the European Union. Judicial, secular and liberal values are at stake. The present Polish government is strengthening Euroscepticism, populism and nationalism at the expense of the ideals on which the European Union was founded. These challenges come at a time when the soon-to-be 27-member union is already under stress from migration and other pressures. But what the union can or will do about it remains to be seen. Poland's departure from democratic norms strengthens non-liberal forms of government.


The vote by United Kingdom citizens to leave the European Union indisputably caused a crisis within the European Union, but it may be Poland, a country that very much wants to remain in the European Union, that will bring about the deeper crisis.

The European Union has taken legal action against Poland over the Polish governments attempts to undermine the independence of judges. Brussels is also acting against Polands requirement that female judges retire two years earlier than male judges. The European Unions concerns are wider than the justice issue, but the legal action is one way of seeking to halt the progress towards a non-democratic rule. The Law and Justice Party, known as PiS, an abbreviation of its Polish name, is also presenting political and ideological challenges to the European Union.

There is a surprising aspect to these developments because Poland, having rid itself of communism and powerful Soviet influence largely through defiance led by Lech Walesa in the Gdansk Shipyard, was an enthusiastic joiner of the European Union in 2004. A number of other former communist countries joined at the same time, none more eagerly than Poland. With EU funding, its economy thrived and it played an increasing and influential role in the European Union. It was an exemplar for a post-communist country.

PiS, a populist, nationalistic and Eurosceptic party, came to power in 2015 and reformed the Constitutional Tribunal, a body that rules on the legality of elections. It also sought to change the National Council of the Judiciary, a body responsible for maintaining the independence of the judiciary, and sought to dismiss and replace judges of the Supreme Court and to replace judges of lower courts.

Month deadline

At the time of writing (the beginning of August) the European Union has given Poland a month to respond to the EU legal case.

In a surprising move, the president, Andrzej Duda, had vetoed the moves over the National Council of the Judiciary and the dismissal of Supreme Court judges, but he allowed the replacement of lower court judges. Duda had hitherto been a compliant member of PiS as well as being close to the PiS leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski. He may have been influenced by pleas from human rights activists; he may have been concerned for the stability of the country after huge public protests against the proposed legal changes; or he may have decided that the position of the presidency required him to do what he considered in the interests for the country rather than simply to endorse the will of the elected government.

Whatever his motivation, there are widespread suspicions that the government will find some way around the vetoes, possibly by adjusting some of the legislations conditions, thereby making it acceptable to the president or possibly by over-ruling the president, though it would need more votes than it can at present command to do that. One way or another, the government remains determined to change the legal structure.

Poland has also refused to admit Middle Eastern and North African migrants and refugees. The European Union has asked every member to take an allocation to share the burden. Polands allocation was 7000. Hungary has also refused to take the allocation the EU Commission made to it. …

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