There is no country in the EU that has shown more solidarity with Ukraine than Poland since the start of the Russian war of aggression. And there is no government in the EU that has acted more vehemently against fundamental institutions of the rule of law since the beginning of the Russian war of aggression than Poland’s.
In just the first four weeks after February 24, more than 200 new pro-government judges were unlawfully appointed. Dozens have previously been transferred or fired. Your crime: You have spoken European law.
The current actions of the Polish government are the latest escalation of an anti-democratic agenda of the government in Warsaw: Over the past six years, they have systematically installed a sophisticated system that is diametrically opposed to the principle of the rule of law – a central principle of the European value system. In fact, there is no longer an independent judiciary in Poland.
It is the task of the EU Commission – the guardian of the EU treaties – to use all available means to remedy this situation, restore the rule of law and defend democracy in Poland. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen now has this responsibility. And she has a powerful lever to defend European values: money.
The EU Commission has so far withheld 36 billion euros from the Corona reconstruction fund because the judiciary in Poland is not independent. The signal to the PiS-led government was clear. Europe is both: values and solidarity. rule of law and money. Both are only available in a package.
A dispute between Brussels and Warsaw smoldered for months. In the end, those who – one must assume – wanted to get rid of the last independent judges in the shadow of the war were victorious. Poland convinced the Commission of a rotten compromise that should never have existed: linking the disbursement of EU funds to milestones that in fact address only a fraction of the problems and are likely to be met primarily on paper.
This is how the first billions should flow, although Warsaw has not implemented the recent judgments of the European Court of Justice. Even more: the reform law signed by President Andrzej Duda abolishes the existing chamber for disciplining disagreeable judges, but reinstates it under a new name.
This is not a fundamental reform that guarantees the independence of the judiciary. The pressure on the Polish government to abandon its autocratic course in the future is almost zero. Experts agree that there will no longer be an independent judicial system in Poland.
And yet Ursula von der Leyen spoke of a “better future” in Warsaw at the beginning of June. In the flashes of camera flashes, it seemed as if she had restored the balance between money and the rule of law. But who follows this line, sits on a huge error in reasoning. Because when it comes to the rule of law, compromises don’t work.
There are no semi-independent courts, just as there are no semi-fundamental rights or semi-justice. Ursula von der Leyen did not save the rule of law with her milestone compromise, but gave the Polish judiciary the European seal of approval. There are 36 billion euros on top of that.
When asked about von der Leyen’s motivation, there are only wrong answers: the Russian war against Ukraine, the Polish veto against the global minimum tax, European unity. None of this justifies abandoning fundamental core principles of European democracy. And none of this can ever be brought forward by a government of a European member country to justify the dismantling of democracy and the rule of law.
Von der Leyen played big. She has placed her political destiny in the hands of the Polish government. If von der Leyen’s bill doesn’t work out and Warsaw continues to care little about the independence of its judiciary, then a lot of European money will soon flow into a broken system – and ensure the survival of the PiS government there. Then the EU Commission gave up a central lever to enforce the rule of law in Poland after all.
Then Ursula von der Leyen failed in her most central task: protecting the European treaties. It would only be logical if the heart of European democracy – the European Parliament – then withdraws its confidence.
Terry Reintke and Daniel Freund are members of the Greens in the European Parliament.