For months, tensions have been rising between Poland and the European Union. Yet with no end in sight for the fractured relationship, the question of where the relationship goes from here is not the only topic put to the test, but the future of the European Union itself.
At the beginning of the year, Poland introduced some of the toughest abortion laws in Europe. Which sparked outrage across the continent, and within the EU, and brought into question Poland’s place in the EU. Several months later, Poland and the European Union are once again clashing with one another.
Yet this time, the atmosphere is darker, and the future of the stability of the EU has been put into question. In this situation, the conflict between the two entities is due to the fact that Poland’s High Court recently ruled that several EU laws and treaties were incompatible with the Polish constitution. A High Court that many, including EU leaders and officials, accused of being handpicked by Polish politicians, along with many other members of Poland’s judiciary. This, according to the EU, violates the basic foundation of primacy over European Union law. Which establishes precedence over national laws.
John Morijn, a professor of law and politics in international relations and a Commissioner for the Netherlands’ Institute for Human Rights, believes that the friction between the EU and Poland can be traced back to the ‘hijacking’ of Poland’s judiciary, which began occurring in 2019. “They (Poland’s Law and Justice Party) have gradually but quite deliberately broken-down various parts of the Rule of Law in Poland.” On the issue of the restrictive abortion laws, he mentions how Poland used the ‘hijacked’ tribunal to “dramatically restrict the already restrictive rules on abortion.” The current abortion restrictions prohibit abortions in nearly all circumstances. While the European Union criticized Poland for it, he mentions they could not do anything significant about it since abortion is not covered in any meaningful way in European law.
Yet no other previous rifts between Poland and the European Union compared to the one currently developing. Morijn mentions that with the current escalations, billions of euros of funding and assistance are being blocked by the European Union. He believes the Polish government is trying to use the situation as a bargaining chip, yet he believes it is backfiring tremendously for the Polish government. “It goes to underscore that investing thirty-four billion euros in a country where you have a huge autocratization process going on is simply economically irresponsible, but also morally wrong.” Morijn is referring to the billions of euros of aid Poland is supposed to receive as part of a large-scale EU economic recovery plan, yet as of now the money is being withheld from Poland due to the latest developments within the relationship between the two entities.
Morijn believes that Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is purposefully trying to stir up noise in order to challenge the European Union’s ‘infringement’ of its sovereignty and be able to change the European Union from the inside. To prevent the ‘over-influence’ of the European Union, undermine the European Parliament, and prevent a European super-state. In this issue, the Polish Prime Minister is not alone either, as he is backed by Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán. Observing which member states are supporting either side of the conflict It becomes increasingly clear that an ideological separation between Eastern and Western Europe is currently unfolding. Since Western European nations are backing the EU and many Eastern European nations are supporting Poland’s stance. Morijn refers to several of the European member states as ‘backsliding democracies’, including other Eastern European countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovenia. With all of these developments, Morijn mentions that “not acting, is not neutral.” He refers to his disappointment with European leaders failing to comprehensively address the Polish situation.
Clara van de Wiel, the EU correspondent for the NRC newspaper, acknowledges the crisis, and the potential rift between Western and Eastern Europe, but believes it will not be a permanent issue. When asked whether the developments currently unfolding bring into question the fundamental existence of the European Union, van de Wiel mentions other previous crises where the survival of the EU was put into question. Including the Euro crisis, the migration crisis, and Brexit, therefore suggesting that this will not be irreversible. On the topic of whether or not a ‘Polexit’ is on the table, van de Wiel states that “it is, and it isn’t. It is completely theoretical, but the way Poland is behaving and harnessing other countries makes their position difficult. Almost like an outsider within the EU.”