About 100,000 people gathered in Warsaw on Sunday (10/10) to show support for Poland’s membership in the European Union. Among those in attendance was Donald Tusk – the former president of the Council of Europe, who now heads the opposition Civic Platform party.
“What drives us all here today? A quasi-trial, a group of disguisers in judicial robes, who, on the orders of the party leader, in violation of the constitution, decided to withdraw Poland from the European Union,” he said.
The protests were sparked after a panel of judges in Poland’s top court ruled last week that the national constitution takes precedence over EU law. In fact, the rule of law of the European Union is the legal basis of the bloc. European Union officials on Monday threatened to sanction Poland.
“We are now awaiting a new decision from the (EU) Court on the situation in Poland, as well as possible daily financial sanctions,” said Didier Reynders, the EU’s commissioner of justice.
The fines can be in excess of $1 million per day. This legal case was originally filed by the Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki. He refused to implement two EU Court decisions in July, which accused the Polish government of political interference in the country’s judicial system.
Morawiecki has denied this and stated that Poland has no intention of leaving the European Union. In a Facebook post, he called the idea a “dangerous myth.”
Masses of supporters of the Polish government then staged a counter-demonstration and said that the government was right to challenge the European Union. One of them, Zygmunt Miernik, said: “They are getting rights they don’t deserve, and they are increasingly wanting to interfere.”
So, how likely is Poland to leave the European Union?
“The threat of Polexit – Poland’s exit from the European Union – is grossly exaggerated. Poland is a country, where more than 80 percent of the population supports EU membership. Poland relies heavily on internal markets as well as EU funds, including the (COVID-19) recovery fund agreed last year,” said Piotr Buras of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
The COVID recovery fund is worth $66 billion (Rp938.4 trillion). The European Union has threatened to withhold the money unless Poland implements changes to its judicial system.
Poland and several other member states, including Hungary, have repeatedly clashed with the European Union over the rule of law, media freedom and minority rights.
“Our current battle is basically about whether the EU will allow this to happen, that populist, autocratic governments ignoring European standards and European law can cause erosion of the EU’s foundations,” said Piotr Buras.
That foundation has been shaken by Poland’s decision. EU officials say the bloc must stick to its core principles, otherwise it risks collapsing. But so far, the Polish government has shown little sign of changing direction. [rd/jm]