Judicial dispute with Poland: showdown in the European Council?

AWhen Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki appeared in the European Parliament on Tuesday, he fueled the dispute over the rule of law. Even the always restrained Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was visibly annoyed when she went to the microphone again after the more than four hours long speech battle. “It is a one-off process for a constitutional court to question articles of the European Treaty. That hits right at the core of the rule of law. It has never happened before, ”she said in the face of the Polish Prime Minister. This Thursday both will continue their dialogue: in the European Council.

Thomas Gutschker

Political correspondent for the European Union, NATO and the Benelux countries based in Brussels.

The topic comes up at the end of the first working session, before dinner. Council President Charles Michel actually wanted to prevent this so that the Council would not argue again as it did in June, when the heads of government had an argument about sexual discrimination. However, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had already announced internally that he would speak up, and Morawiecki himself sent a letter to all governments. He will now be the first to speak in the evening, then von der Leyen. Then Rutte and possibly other bosses – depending on the group dynamics. “We hope for some dialogue and mutual respect in the room so that we can find solutions,” said a senior EU official before the debate.

No blue letter to Poland?

In German government circles it was said that one had to try to get the dispute “back on track”: “From our point of view, this does not include the confrontation with Poland, but the dialogue with Poland.” The debate is now a good opportunity to do so. The Chancellor herself set an example and met Morawiecki for a personal meeting before the council began. Angela Merkel has long been warning against cornering Warsaw too much and outsourcing the political conflict to the courts. The Commission has de facto already frozen the billions in aid that are earmarked for Poland in the Corona reconstruction fund. But the Benelux countries and members of the European Parliament are urging that the new instrument to protect the regular EU budget against Warsaw be brought into position: the so-called rule of law conditionality.

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Merkel had enforced this instrument during her German EU Council Presidency by forging a political compromise with Poland and Hungary. The Commission should therefore only open proceedings after the European Court of Justice has ruled on the action of both countries. This is due at the end of December at the earliest. The European Parliament, which is not included in the compromise, does not want to wait that long. The group leaders decided on Wednesday that they would refer the Commission to the European Court of Justice for failure to act. It is now expected that the Commission will anticipate the action, which is due to be filed by November 2nd, by taking action earlier. Von der Leyen signaled this internally.

However, Poland should not then receive a blue letter, as the FAZ learned from the community of von der Leyens: “There will only be one letter: to Hungary.” may be. The Commission has documented several cases in which Prime Minister Viktor Orbán benefited relatives and acquaintances with EU-supported projects. There are no such cases in Poland. The government in Warsaw has subjugated the courts, but is not behaving corruptly.

The chairman of the budget control committee in the European Parliament, Monika Hohlmeier from the CSU, shares this point of view: “There is no legal security for entrepreneurs in Poland. But the government is more cautious with EU funds than Viktor Orbán in Hungary, who is pushing ahead with building oligarchic structures with all his might and thereby favoring his friends. The EU Commission must take action against it, it is a particularly blatant case in Europe, ”she told the FAZ on Thursday. At the same time, she called on the Commission to “disclose the standards by which it begins a procedure” – in order to avoid the appearance that it is measuring with double standards.

However, political aspects also play a role for von der Leyen. On the one hand, she wants to avert the lawsuit against her commission and secure the political support of the Greens. They have submitted their own legal opinion to support a case specifically against Hungary. On the other hand, the President of the Commission wants to avoid the solidarity effect that would occur if she opened several proceedings at the same time. Before the summer break, budget commissioner Johannes Hahn had let it be known internally that he was preparing eight to ten blue letters. Most of them would have gone to East Central Europeans, including the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria. But these countries in particular have moved noticeably at a distance from Poland and Hungary – which increases the pressure on the governments there.

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