Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Poland’s conservative ruling Law and Justice (PiS), has come out and said that Poland cannot possibly give away more than it has over the rule-of-law compliance issue. Together, with many in his party, he has decided that “enough was enough” and that the European Commission was simply ratcheting up demands for new concessions from the Polish government in order to give themselves new excuses for not transferring EU recovery funds to Poland.
The opposition’s response has been a ritual one of raising alarms that PiS is trying to take Poland out of the EU and are moving Poland from West to East. They are promising that once they are elected into government, they will make sure Poland gets the funds by just doing what the European Commission wants.
The opposition’s narrative merely confirms their position has nothing to do with rule of law and everything to do with trying to change the government in Poland. Taken together with the behavior of the European Commission, they seem to confirm that Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro was right that any climb down over judicial reform would simply embolden the European Commission, and that the attempts at compromise made by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki have ended in failure.
Any objective assessment of the situation leads to the conclusion that Ursula von der Leyen has in fact been dishonest with the Polish government and Poland as a whole on the matter. The European Commission forced through a large number of milestones on matters such as tax and even parliamentary standing orders only to then produce new demands. Maybe it was rash of the government to claim it had settled the matter but there did seem to be a willingness to compromise which the European Commission has now chosen to disregard.
The simple fact of the matter is that the agreement was reached between the European Commission and the Polish government on the issue of the dissolution of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court. It did not include returning all suspended judges to their duties as no law can guarantee that. What it did was create a procedure for overturning decisions taken by the Disciplinary Chamber.
Equally, the agreement did not include the promise that one judge should be able to challenge the status of another, as that would lead down the road to total judicial chaos — chaos that the opposition would have to inherit should it win the election and would then have to decide what to do with all the “questioned judges” and the verdicts in cases they presided over.
The European Commission seems to have adopted the tactic of making demands that are impossible to meet. This happens when one side does not wish to compromise but to humiliate and subjugate another. To recognize this is not to automatically support the judicial reform initiatives, which many believes has been a costly mistake, but the European Commission’s stance and Kaczyński’s reaction implies that the ruling party will double down on that reform and continue to move in that direction, including a possible purge of judges the present government dislikes.
The European Commission’s tactics have led to a crisis in Polish-EU relations. It may just be about trying to help the opposition in Poland win an election, but the European Commission’s actions are steps in the direction of making the EU into a federal state by stealth. If the Commission can actually run the judicial system in Poland, then it can run everything else, and similar moves to those conducted against Poland are being pursued by the European Court of Justice with its verdicts on the Constitutional Court in Romania or migration policy in Lithuania.
There is also the little matter of the war in Ukraine. The EU elites seem to have decided to seek major changes in the way the EU is run just as those elites have been shown to have erred badly over relations with Russia, especially those in Germany. The result is that Poland rather than Russia is now facing the fiercest sanctions from Europe.
It remains to be seen how ordinary Poles will react. Will they rebel against EU diktat, even if they have little faith in the ruling party’s judicial reforms? Or will they be dominated by the fear of losing EU funds that Poland does need? The opposition is banking on the latter and that is why it is whipping up fear in the populace. However, the opposition’s campaign tactic is a clear sign that they agree with the notion that the EU is always right and Polish sovereignty should always be undermined.