On July 4, 2018, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki presented Poland’s view on the future of Europe at the Plenary of the European Parliament. July 4 is not only the anniversary of the United States Declaration of Independence but also the aphelion, the day in the year when the Earth is farthest from the Sun; and that is where Poland is when it comes to the EU.
On July 2, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure by sending a Letter of Formal Notice to Poland addressing the new law regarding their Supreme Court. The law lowers the retirement age of Supreme Court Judges from 70 to 65, which also applies to the First President of the Supreme Court, whose 6-year mandate would be prematurely terminated. Nevertheless, Chief Justice Malgorzata Gersdof decided to go to work to protest the controversial judicial reform. The European Commission deems the judicial reform unlawful because it clashes with one of the EU’s core values: The Rule of Law. Poland will have one month to respond to the proceedings.
At the Plenary, Prime Minister Morawiecki made the view of the Polish government very clear. Poland is a proud nation that wants its identity respected, as well as its right to set up the legal system in line with its own traditions. According to him, some of the judges come from the communist era during which they have allegedly committed atrocities, even to his own friends, making it a very personal matter.
However, while the judicial reform was on top of every MEP’s mind, Morawiecki did also discuss Poland’s priorities for the future of Europe. First, the Polish Government wants to rebalance the relationship of Member States with the EU institutions, i.e. bringing power back to the national governments. Second, Poland proposes an “intelligent” adjustment where the EU helps to bridge the transition to the 4th industrial revolution. This involves a secure EU that can face external and internal challenges, and an EU of citizens that can withstand the power of global corporations (Poland’s planned revision of the Services Directive could be seen in that context). Reading between the lines, on the one hand the Polish Government tries to steer the EU towards a model of cooperation instead of deepened integration. On the other hand, Poland is not opposed to the idea to enhancing the EU’s own resources by raising a digital tax or VAT. Energy and sustainability also remain issues of high concern for Poland.
Lastly, what truly worries Poland is Russia. For Prime Minister Morawiecki, the Nord Stream 2 project is not an opportunity but a threat, especially for Central and Eastern European countries that are still dependent on the gas supply from Russia that could be able to increase its influence over eastern Europe. This takes us to the EU’s security and the NATO spending issue. Even though Vice-President Dombrovskis appreciated that the EU increased its spending by twenty-two times in its latest defence programme, this is not enough in his view. Poland wants all Member States to reach NATO’s 2% threshold of spending. The EU’s defence should complement NATO not substitute it.
2018 is the 550th anniversary of the Polish Parliament, which dates back to 1468, and a milestone of its democracy. This makes the EU’s criticism of the Polish judicial reform particularly sensitive. Pope John Paul II once said that the EU needs both of its lungs, the Western and the Eastern if it wants to survive. In the face of the existential challenges, such as Brexit and the transatlantic crisis, this is truer than ever.
Written by Borja de Pedro and Arne Koeppel, FTI Consulting, Brussels