The extreme right party PiS (law and justice) in
Poland gains international criticism due to the controversial laws they are
implementing. The European Commission even wants to take away their voting
rights. What is happening and will Poland remain an EU member state?
It all started when PiS won the elections with an absolute majority last fall. The first thing they did was appointing five new PiS-minded judges for the constitutional court. After that, in December, they limited the power of this same tribunal. The courts primal aim is to supervise the government. A decision of the court had to be supported by only a majority. After the new law was implemented, this had to be a majority two third. PiS wants to prevent their laws from not being implemented because of constitutional reasons.
After these changes tens of thousands of Poles took to the streets in December and protested against their government. They were saying that their laws undermined the Polish rule of law and screaming ‘no to dictatorship!’ The European Commission sent a letter during Christmas asking President Andrzej Duda to take a closer look at his controversial, constitutional amendment. Duda and his party ignored this ‘advice’.
But it did not stop after this. This January, Duda signed a new controversial media law which gave him power over the public broadcast corporations. The law states the government can name or fire every staff member at the public broadcasters. The excuse for this law was that media was too subjective. Journalists were not objective enough according to the government.
Internationally, the media law is widely criticised. Human rights organisations are very concerned and the European Commission has started the rule of law procedure and the article 7 procedure. The rule of law procedure is a procedure that determines whether a rule of law is in danger and which enables the EU to intervene. If Poland doesn’t take steps to protect its rule of law, the Commission will take away the rights based on European treaties Poland signed (article 7 procedure), of which the most important is their voting right.
Since Poland is a very big member state with one of the fastest growing economies in the EU, the commission will be careful with imposing sanctions. PiS realises this. They do not agree with the accusations made by the European Commission and continue rebuilding the Polish state undisturbed, now giving judiciary and secret service the power to spy on their citizens unlimitedly.
One fact still remains; PiS was democratically chosen with an absolute majority (with a turnout of 51%). Some say they became so popular because of the EU with its refugee quotes and waterfall of rules, criticism which is heard all over the European Member States. A question arises from this development: will Poland remain in the EU and, if not, will other member states follow their example? In other words: will the upcoming of extreme right split Europe? We don’t know.
At this point, there is no relevant evidence that PiS wants to leave the European Union. They do say that they want to reform the EU drastically which is hard if they do not have a voting right. On the on the other hand, president Duda, told the Polish press that the Schengen zone is one of the most important principles in the EU.
If Poland doesn’t want to leave, will the EU force them? Provided that they do not protect their rule of law irrespectively the international pressure. Again, probably not. As said above, the Polish economy is very important to the Union. Besides, letting a member state go could be the last straw for some and their faith in the EU causing a new European crisis and possibly a loss of more Member States.
What will happen in Poland is just conjecture. Time will show us what PiS plans are and if the Polish citizens will take it. As the leader of the (opposition) Nowoczesna party, Ryszard Petru told the parliament in January after the sceptical speech of the Foreign minister on the EU: “ [Poland’s] strength and the strength of its economy depends on... the strength of our ties within the EU,” But it might also be the other way around.