From money cuts to the withdrawal of votes: which EU sanctions really hurt Poland

From money cuts to the withdrawal of votes
Which EU sanctions really hurt Poland

In theory, there are different types of sanctions available to the EU to punish Poland in dispute over the rule of law. But not all of them make sense. Some even have little chance of success. An overview of the possible penal mechanisms and their consequences.

The dispute over the independence of the Polish judiciary was briefly on the agenda of the EU summit in Brussels. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen threatened Warsaw this week in the European Parliament with further steps. But not all means are equally effective in getting Poland to respect the rule of law:

This means is considered to be the most powerful in Brussels, because Poland is dependent on EU aid worth billions. For months, the Commission has been holding back the aid that Poland was hoping for from the Corona aid fund amounting to 36 billion euros. Von der Leyen makes the “restoration of the independence of the judiciary” in Poland a condition for the payment. The Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accuses Brussels of “blackmail”.

  • EU funds are capped in the event of rule-of-law violations

The Commission could also shortly use the so-called rule of law mechanism, which has been in force since January. The “General Conditionality Regulations for the Protection of the Union’s Budget” – so the official title – can cut billions in EU payments to member states if the countries violate the rule of law. The problem: Poland and Hungary have sued the European Court of Justice (ECJ) against this. Berlin urges to wait for the verdict in the spring. In addition, German government circles point out that the EU Commission has to prove negative effects of the violations on the financial interests of the entire EU, which is considered difficult in the case of Poland. The European Parliament wants to sue the Commission for “inaction” if it does not act by November 2nd.

The EU Commission launched another means against Poland in 2017: criminal proceedings under Article 7 of the EU Treaty, with which particularly serious violations of the rule of law can be punished. It can lead to the withdrawal of voting rights at EU level. As an ally of Poland, Hungary is threatening to veto the necessary unanimous decision of the EU countries. But other states also have concerns. The chairman of the conservative European People’s Party, Manfred Weber, brought an “action complaint” by Parliament against the Council of Member States into play.

  • Other legal proceedings

Because of individual violations, the EU Commission sued Poland before the ECJ in Luxembourg, and in several cases was also judged. Warsaw is threatened with a daily fine in the millions, for example because of a disciplinary chamber at the Supreme Court that was created in 2018, with which judges can be reprimanded and suspended from a Brussels point of view. However, the Polish Constitutional Court recently disputed the primacy of EU law and with it the legal authority of the ECJ. Critics argue that the Constitutional Court is now directed by the government itself.

  • Exclusion of Poland from the EU

This leverage is not available to the EU. Only a Member State itself can bring about an exit, as in the case of Great Britain. Poland’s Prime Minister Morawiecki stressed before the summit that he would not seek a “Polexit”.

Chancellor Angela Merkel in particular is in favor of this approach. As the incumbent head of government, she wants to seek dialogue with Morawiecki at her last summit. According to reports, a bilateral meeting is planned.

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