On November 20, the ruling Law and Justice party adopted a resolution supporting the government’s announcement to veto to link EU funds to the respect of the rule of law. The vast majority of the opposition voted against this resolution. The opening words of this political manifesto reads that “the Parliament of the Republic of Poland notices and reminds that the Republic of Poland is a democratic and sovereign state ruled by law.” The governing party’s desire to tell the world that the rule of law is present in Poland recalls the words of Margaret Thatcher that “being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

The resolution serves domestic purposes. The Law and Justice party likes to present itself as a defender of “sovereignty” and “traditional values” endangered by the European integration. According to Poland’s prime minister, the rule of law is only a propaganda mechanism for the EU that resembles Communist times. Apart from showing the muscles on Polish soil, the ruling party, in tandem with Viktor Orban’s government in Hungary, threatens to block the 2021-27 EU financial framework and coronavirus recovery fund.

While the rule of law conditionality requires a qualified majority in the Council, both the Polish and Hungarian government decided to use their veto powers in the final stage of EU budget talks that set the parameters for the new rule of law mechanism. This is no surprise, since both governments have been frequently and rightly accused of violating the rule of law and abusing political powers.

Since 2015, there have been many attacks on the independence of the judiciary and individual judges in Poland which led to the deterioration of Poland’s position in various indices measuring the rule of law, individual liberties, and the quality of democratic institutions. The European Commission responded by recommendations under the Rule of Law Framework, by triggering Article 7(1) and by infringement procedures before the Court of Justice.

The rule of law mechanism is far from perfect but it is better than nothing. The EU should be aware that the situation is urgent and the rule of law in Poland, Hungary and other member states matters not only for the citizens of these countries but also for the future of the European project as a club of countries with high-quality democratic institutions safeguarding human rights and individual liberties.

The Law and Justice positions itself as a defender of Polish national interest. But Poland’s actual interest is to maintain a strong position within the EU and the prevalence of the rule of law – irrespectively whether it is linked to EU funding. EU funds, if spent wisely, matter and Poland is still a net beneficiary of its membership. But Poland’s membership in the Single Market is even more important than the cohesion funds. In 2019, Poland received €11 billion of net transfers from the Union’s budget. But at the same time, thanks to full access to other European economies, Poland’s GDP was €56 billion euros higher.

In order to strengthen the Single Market and challenge the intra-EU protectionism, Polish authorities should have a stronger position in the EU. That is not possible while the rule of law, expressed in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, is under constant attack. Moreover, a solid level of the rule of law is important for entrepreneurs as it enables to build a stable environment for doing business and economic growth.

All in all, if Poland’s government is worried that the rule of law conditionality will be triggered to reduce the inflow of some EU funds, there are some simple remedies. Do not attack the independence of the judiciary. Do not politicise courts. Do not abuse the prosecutorial office to fight with political opponents. Reverse the policies that weakened Poland’s institutional system. In sum, do not violate the rule of law and the EU funds will keep coming, Poland position in the EU and the Single Market will be stronger, and economic growth – essential for the post-Covid recovery, will be higher. This approach – not the veto – is the interest of Poland and the European Union.


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