By Olivier Bault.
Poland – The manoeuvres are pretty crude, but Poles are now getting used to this kind of practice. In the same way that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivered an interim order against Poland two days before the regional and municipal elections in the autumn of 2018, EU institutions are manoeuvring again to lend their support to a liberal-leftist opposition which badly needs it.
As of October 10, the October poll average indicated that Jarosław Kaczyński’s conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party could count on 46% of the vote, compared with 27% for the Civic Coalition (KO), which includes liberals from Civic Platform (PO), progressive liberals from Nowoczesna (“Modern”) and the leftist Greens. Lewica (“The Left”) is predicted to win 13% of the vote. This grouping includes social-democrats from the SLD (the heirs to the former communist party), the LGBT-progressive Wiosna (“Spring”) party, and the social far-left Lewica Razem (“The Left Together”). Hence, PiS stands a good chance of renewing the absolute majority it has held in parliament since 2015.
So it was probably no coincidence when it was announced on Wednesday, four days before the Polish general election, that the Juncker Commission was taking Poland to the ECJ again for its reforms of the judiciary. Last year, the issue was the retirement age of judges sitting on the Supreme Court, which had been lowered from 70 to 65. This time, it is about the Disciplinary Chamber in the Polish Supreme Court, which has been instituted with the goal of punishing corrupt, unscrupulous or incompetent judges and of putting an end to the corporatist practices which have characterised the Polish judiciary since the fall of communism. The referral of this matter by the European Commission was already predictable as early as last July, but why then did it choose to wait until the last week preceding the Polish elections? The Juncker Commission could as well have waited until next Monday.
Wednesday this week was also the day chosen by the chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), Spanish socialist Juan Fernando López Aguilar, to announce that he was sending three letters to the Polish justice minister, to the Finnish presidency of the Council and to the European Commission. In those letters, he expresses his deep concern in the face of pressure supposedly exerted on judges in Poland, and also for the situation of the LGBT community in that country. But it must be said that the Spaniard inherited a report against Poland written by British Labour MEP Claude Moraes after the visit to Poland of a LIBE delegation in September 2018. During that visit, the delegation – chaired by Moraes – chose to meet mainly with representatives of the most radical leftist opposition to PiS, and showed more interest in matters relating to access to abortion and LGBT rights than to the rule of law that they were supposed to be enquiring into, according to MEP Nicolas Bay who, as a member of the French National Rally (RN), took part in the LIBE trip to Warsaw. Apart from the draft programme of the visit, to which I have had access and which shows that only one right-wing, conservative organisation (Ordo Iuris) was invited by LIBE to give its version of the situation in Poland, Bay’s statements were corroborated by three other sources: the representative of the Ordo Iuris lawyers’ association, a journalist from Nasz Dziennik, and a parliamentary assistant who was present at all of the meetings.
So it is clear that Brussels is throwing its weight this week behind a battered Polish opposition. In the final run-up to the parliamentary elections, the public television news channel TVP Info has just published recordings which are highly compromising to Sławomir Neumann, head of the Civic Platform parliamentary party. On the recordings, Neumann is heard explaining in very crude terms that his party does not “give a s…” about local associations and activists or about individual competences when appointing people to key functions, as the only important thing for Polish liberals is, according to Neumann himself, their loyalty to the party. On top of this, Neumann assured his listeners from the town of Tczew, where he was secretly recorded by an outraged activist, that the town’s PO mayor should not be worried about the allegations of corruption against him, however serious they might be, as no Polish court would render a judgement that might strengthen PiS before the elections. “A court could boot it into space, it could drag it out for three years, it doesn’t matter. I think 60 or 70 per cent of mayors will have charges filed against them. It won’t make an impression on anyone,” Neumann promised. “The courts today, I can assure you, won’t decide any cases before the election. Any at all. They’ll do f*** all for a year. They’ll hear the cases – and f*** it.”
Incidentally, although the European Union does not seem to like it (and in theory it has no right to interfere in the matter, according to a strict interpretation of the European treaties), this shows how badly needed a Disciplinary Chamber was in Poland, in order to be able to punish judges who violate the rule of law. In fact, if unelected judges can do whatever they like depending on their political opinions, then we are not living in a democracy.