Parliamentary Debate over Poland proved a blow to the European Commission

The EU parliamentary debate over the alleged violation of the rule of law in Poland was redundant or, as some maintain, illegal. It fuelled the anti-European sentiment of the EU opponents who made use of the event to take exception to the functioning of the EU and criticized it for interfering into internal affairs of the member states. The debate will have enhanced the popularity of the government in Poland, should the resolution be not passed in February.

1. The surveillance of whether the rule of law is observed is allegedly in contravention of the EU legislation.
Kazimierz Michał Ujazdowski, an EU parliamentary deputy from the Law and Justice party (the European Conservatives and Reformists Group), in an interview for The Polish newspaper says:
– I found the opinion of the Legal Service of the Council of the European Union of May 2014. This opinion removes all doubt: the procedure set up in defence of the rule of law is itself in breach of law.
– The European Commission acted on the assumption that Article 7 is too radical (within its meaning a 4/5 majority of the member states might be entitled to impart a warning to a member state over being in breach of the rule of law; a unanimous vote might entitle the member states to impose sanctions on the member state), and proposed to act in a more restrained and milder way. The trouble is that the European Commission may only act as one of the requesting authorities and must not alter the treaties on its own.
– The Council alone (comprising the member states) can change the treaties. (…) The wording of the treaties is detailed and precise because the consequences are so very much important. This surveillance mechanism as applied is an attempt at curtailing the independence of the member states. At the same time it restricts the authority of the Council, and these things are interrelated. The mechanism would only be legal if it were passed by the member states within a framework of an international conference.

It might also be noted that the member states only acquiesced in this surveillance mechanism because they were aware of its legal defects, and knew that the mechanism would be legally ineffective. The opinion that the whole procedure is not solidly supported by the law is not only voiced by the Polish authorities but also in the public debate.

2. It was only the European Commission that strove to have the debate that took place on Thursday (January 1), and no one else, not even the Polish opposition.
The fact that the deputies were unprepared bears this out. In the run-up to the debate it had been predicted that PM Beata Szydło would be exposed to a harrowing experience; as it turned out, her opponents’ arguments were too general, as if they did not feel like coping with the problem in the first place. It was only Commissars Frans Timmermans and Guenther Oettinger who offered reasoned arguments.
– I had thought that I’d be asked questions on these matters (the Constitutional Tribunal and public media), but there were very few such questions that were put to me. I think there’s nothing to ask about because there is no problem, said Beata Szydło, Poland’s prime minister, in her speech. Also the Polish media point to the low quality of the debate.

The Polish political opposition did not want this debate either. The Civic Platform party deputies (the European People’s Parties Group) mostly did not turn up. Jan Olbrycht’s speech conveyed embarrassment over such a situation. He said: Prime Minister, you know it all well that we neither sought nor wanted this debate.

3. The Euro-sceptics had the time of their life, as they emphasized their solidarity with Poland.
It came down as a surprise that so many of the deputies who took the floor opposed the European Commission’s action. As PM Beata Szydło’s speech had conciliatory overtones, verbal assaults were expected. Seyd Kamall (ERK), among others, came to the rescue of the Polish government. His speech in which he unmasked the double standards practised by the European Commission met with widespread approval in Poland.

Though distancing herself from nationalist sentiment, PM Beata Szydło seemed pleased, hearing the Euro-sceptics speak, which she showed by clapping her hands and smiling.

4. The failed attack carried out by the European Commission against Poland only enhanced the popularity of the Polish government.
Contrary to the intentions of those who had initiated the debate, the Polish government may feel more secure at home, and so it will not diverge from its path of reforms. Some commentators predict that PM Beata Szydło may win more popularity after the debate.

*The EU has recently taken exception to Poland, when the Law and Justice party won the elections and is now carrying out reforms of the Constitutional Tribunal and the public media, which the political opposition regards as a violation of the law. The European Commission has initiated the mechanism of monitoring the rule of law in Poland; the debate that took place in the European Parliament was one of its phases.

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