Poland defies EU orders: Why a Polexit remains on the cards
Brussels and Warsaw are playing poker to see who has the strongest nerves. The EU has already suspended billions of euros in grants to Poland citing concerns over the rule of law. The European Commission has now upped the ante, claiming that EU money is misspent due to corruption. In turn, Poland is threatening to undermine the EU’s climate efforts if Brussels does not release the cash. Historian David Engels cannot rule out that this game continues until there are consequences that no one really wants.
One million euros – that is the impressive amount that Warsaw is to transfer to Brussels every day from now on. And that is until the Disciplinary Chamber of Poland’s Supreme Court, which in December 2019 was given far-reaching powers to reprimand judges who have lost their claim to impartiality through excessive political commitment, is dissolved.
The Polish government has made it clear that it is not willing to pay this sum which, extrapolated to one year, accounts for about 0.5 per cent of state revenues.1 There are several reasons for this.
On the one hand, the Polish leadership had already announced in August that it would subject the controversial judicial reform to a new parliamentary review in the autumn. The Polish government also held out the prospect of far-reaching changes to the Disciplinary Chamber, which has not examined any new cases since then – new constitutional amendments simply cannot be pushed through any faster in a state where the rule of law applies.
On the other hand, Poland is aware that the Disciplinary Chamber is only the tip of the iceberg, as many other policies of the current government also displease the Brussels elites. It is therefore only a matter of time before further proceedings will be filed, for example against the democratisation of the Constitutional Court, abortion legislation, the rejection of LGBTQ ideology, etcetera.
The European Union is gradually exhausting its possibilities
It is therefore more advantageous for Warsaw to keep the initiative and work on the organic development of Polish law which is supported by the Polish parliament, than to blindly submit to the verdict of the EU’s Court of Justice (ECJ). It should not be forgotten that the current legal reform was merely a response to the unconstitutional appointments of judges by the previous left-liberal government. If the current legal reform process were to be undone under EU pressure, this would play havoc with the stability of Poland’s legal system.
Not much more to lose
Since the suspension of the EU’s COVID-19 aid, which is likely to be followed by the withholding of further subsidies, Poland has little more to lose financially. The European Union is gradually exhausting its possibilities: now it could be up to Poland to stop its own payments to Brussels and, if the EU sticks to its destructive course, to suspend participation in the single market if necessary.
So far, it has been the EU that has taken the Polish population hostage in order to orchestrate regime change in Warsaw. But the tables can be turned; a large part of the EU funds flowing to Poland eventually ends up in the pockets of Western, above all German investors.
Such an estrangement from the EU would hardly be ideal for Warsaw – but it would not only affect Poland, but the West as well
Should Poland feel compelled to tax these transactions accordingly or to further open up its extremely lucrative domestic market to non-European investors, it will quickly drive out the arrogance of the West which seems to consider Poland as a backward recipient of alms awaiting Brussels orders. After all, these EU funds are merely compensation payments for the unconditional opening of the Polish market to Western investors, as was the case at another level between West and East Germany.
It is no wonder that the German-Polish Chamber of Commerce is sounding the alarm and calling on all parties to show moderation now that threats of a Polexit are circulating. Such an estrangement from the EU would hardly be ideal for Warsaw – but it would not only affect Poland, but the West as well.
Poland and Western Europe are not only economically dependent on each other; both would lose more than they could possibly gain from a Polexit. The vast majority of Poles are in favour of remaining in the EU for identity-reasons, while the EU cannot afford a Polexit (which could then well be followed by a Huxit) after Brexit if it wants to avoid an implosion. And in terms of foreign policy, neither Warsaw nor Brussels, Berlin nor Washington can afford Poland slipping into a ‘no man's land’ between the Western alliance and the Russian-Chinese coalition.
No one would win from a Polexit
So why are both rivals conjuring up a Polexit, and how will it be possible to end this crisis without losing face? Simply put, Brussels and Warsaw are playing poker to see who has the strongest nerves.
Brussels expects to force a change of government in favour of Donald Tusk, the leader of Poland’s main opposition party Civic Platform, through financial and political blackmail of the Polish population. Warsaw, however, wants to prove that submission is not the only alternative, and is playing for time – probably in the hope that the expected major economic crisis or a change of government in Italy or France will bring some relief.
Brexit was also not seriously wanted by Brussels or London – and yet it has become a political reality
The most realistic and elegant option would be to meet halfway and offset an acceleration of the next Polish legal reform with a more restrained approach of the ECJ, which is also increasingly criticised by other member states for overstepping its legal authority. But is realism to be expected at a time when everything seems to revolve around identity politics and those absolute, if diffuse, ‘values’?
It cannot be ruled out that the increasingly radicalised left-liberal hardliners in the European Parliament and the outraged Polish patriots, spurred on by the respective media, will continue the unequal game of poker until there are actually consequences that no one really wants. Brexit was also not seriously wanted by Brussels or London – and yet it has become a political reality...
An earlier version of this opinion article was published in Junge Freiheit
- 1‘Europäischer Gerichtshof: Polen muß täglich eine Million Euro Zwangsgeld zahlen’, Junge Freiheit, 27 October 2021.