The rifts within the EU continue to widen as Poland and Hungary join together in opposition to the EU bureaucracy.
Soon after Poland’s ultra-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power in October 2015, the Polish parliament passed a law allowing the government to appoint the judges of its choosing to the highest court and not recognize those chosen by its predecessor, the liberal Civic Platform party.
The crisis began in 2015 when Civic Platform, the party then in power, improperly nominated two judges to the constitutional court. When the PiS won October’s elections, it refused to recognize them and also blocked three other judges who had been properly selected by parliament. PiS also wants the court to hear cases in chronological order, rather than setting its own priorities for tackling its caseload. The Polish government believes it is unfair that a constitutional court with a majority of judges appointed under the previous parliament should be able to scupper flagship policies for which PiS secured a mandate in democratic elections in 2015.
Legal experts advising the Council of Europe, the continent’s top human rights watchdog, have concluded that the changes breach the rule of law, democracy and human rights. The Council and the European Parliament have expressed their concerns and urged the government to backtrack on its reform.The constitutional crisis has already given rise to a string of large demonstrations by a new Polish popular movement, the Committee for the Defence of Democracy.
Last December, President Andrzej Duda appointed a candidate backed by PiS as the new head of the constitutional court, which had been locked in a struggle with the government. In response, the European Commission said it considered the procedure which led to the appointment of Judge Julia Przyłębska to the post as “fundamentally flawed as regards the rule of law.” The Commission has set the Polish government a late February deadline to implement measures to protect the powers of the constitutional court.
On February 20, Poland dismissed demands that it implement judiciary reforms deemed essential by the European Commission to uphold the rule of law. Warsaw risks being stripped of its voting rights in the 28-member bloc, but such a move requires unanimity, while Hungary said it would not support sanctions. Hungary has also been harshly criticized by European structures for alleged violations of EU rules and standards.
In 2015, Poland and Hungary joined together to stop an EU ministerial agreement that would have forced all EU countries to honor same-sex “marriages” wherever they were contracted in the European Union. The botched agreement proposed by Luxemburg to the EU justice ministers addressed property rights, pensions and insurance. Poland and Hungary opposedit on the grounds that this would violate their sovereign prerogative to legislate on marriage and family matters.
The fact that two countries in the heart of Europe would oppose even an indirect recognition of same-sex “marriage,” and undoubtedly in the face of strong pressures from other EU states, speaks volumes about the direction Poland and Hungary have chosen. It is not the trajectory in which EU diplomacy, reliant on EU consensus, has taken so far.
The Hungary’s stance on Poland makes EU divisions come in the open to put an end to all the talking about the much-praised European unity. And it’s not Brexit only.
Actually, the EI is already divided. The «Alliance of Europe’s South» is being formed to include Greece, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and Malta. Several EU members mull the possibility of a mini- Schengen bloc to comprise the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Austria – the nations sharing deep cultural and historic links and opposing the idea of wealthy countries in the north subsidizing poorer EU members in the south.
The Visegrad group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) openly opposes the EU migration policy and offers its own vision of what the EU should become in the future. An extraordinary conference of the groups prime ministers in February, 2016, led to a statement reasserting the members’ insistence on “more effective protection” of the EU’s external borders to “stem the migratory flow.” It also repeated the countries’ opposition to a quota system for resettling refugees through the EU.
The group possesses enough significant growth and influence to move beyond the Continent. In particular, the combined GDP of the group makes it the world’s 15th largest economy, and the number of its representatives in the European Parliament is twice as large as the number of representatives of France, Italy and the United Kingdom.
Europe is facing a prolonged period of political upheaval, with elections also slated for 2017 in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Italy – all countries where economic anxiety, opposition to the EU and a surge in migration have fed growing support for populist parties.
The EU is also deeply divided over the sanctions imposed against Russia. Many countries oppose the «trade war» and the discontent is growing. Imposed three years ago, the restrictive measures have failed to achieve any results. The policy has little impact on Moscow. President Vladimir Putin has said manty times that Russia’s economy can rebound stronger from Western sanctions. It has been estimated that the cost to European farmers of the sanctions against Moscow is equal to 5.5 billion euros a year.
According to the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO), the macroeconomic effects of the trade loss, amounting to €34 billion in value added in the short run and €92 billion in the longer. Keeping farmers in business, on a drip of multi-million euro rescue packages is not a sustainable solution.
Poland and Hungary are getting closer as their criticism of European institutions grows stronger. Both nations defend measures to freeze the process of European integration and take back national prerogatives transferred to Brussels. They will work together to resist the EU’s attempts to enforce a scheme to relocate refugees across the bloc.
One thing leads to another. Poland is working to extend its influence beyond the Visegrad Group by giving a boost to the relations with Romania and Slovakia – EU member states also opposing the bloc’s asylum seekers’ relocation plans imposed by Germany.
The disenchantment with European integration is already pervasive in the region. Eurosceptics not only challenge Brussels, they demonstrate their willingness to unite. A new alliance appears to be emerging inside the EU to undermine it, or even destroy it, from within. Other nations inspired by this example are likely to join, spurring the process that can hardly be stopped.