MOSCOW, 13 Oct 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.
The decision of the Constitutional Court of Poland that the Polish Constitution has priority over the legislation of the European Union has caused a political storm in the EU. According to experts, “the very foundations of the European Union are at stake”, and “Poland’s attack on the EU is unprecedented in the history of European integration” and “there is a risk that it will find its imitators”. The European Commission is required to respond to Warsaw’s demarches “with all rigour”. But what can Brussels do in this situation?
When the EU was first created, it did not include a clause on the exclusion of a particular infringing country from the commonwealth. Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union, the only one on this topic, states: “Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention”. And then certain procedures come into force.
However, the Polish ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), with the submission of which the constitutional judges made their decision in full, publicly declares that it does not want to withdraw Poland from the EU at all, but only intends to change it, return it to its “origins” – a union of independent sovereign states united by the economy. This creates difficulties for the European Commission, since it has a limited set of measures to influence Warsaw.
However, one of the leading European jurists, Professor Christophe Hillion of Leiden University gives an interesting interpretation of Article 50. In his opinion, “if a state does not want to comply with European treaties, especially in the context of EU membership requirements, then it de jure and de facto leaves the European Union”. Violation of the EU criteria, Hillion writes, meaning Warsaw, is a form of notifying a member state about the upcoming withdrawal, which the European Council is obliged to take note of and launch the process.
But this judgment is ambiguous, some political forces and states in Europe are unlikely to agree with it. Therefore, Brussels has only one thing to do: to start financially “strangling” Warsaw in the hope that Polish voters in the next or early election will give their votes to “pro-European forces” in Poland, which are represented primarily by the Civic Platform Party (PO) led by former Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Only PO needs to create “appropriate conditions”.
According to the Polish website Onet, the working option is to freeze the transfer of funds to Warsaw from European funds – the Austerity Reconstruction Fund, the seven-year EU budget, the agricultural subsidies fund. In total, this will cost Poland about 2.5% of national GDP.
The amounts are substantial, but not fatal. Warsaw has accumulated a solid financial fat. Law and Justice can afford to sit under siege for several years, waiting for the 2024 European Parliament election and the formation of a new composition of the European Commission. In addition, the Polish opposition is fragmented and unable to present a united front against the ruling party.
All of this clearly demonstrates the impotence of Brussels and European integrators. After all, the Polish “uprising” thwarts the EU’s plans to gain geopolitical subjectivity, which the head of EU diplomacy Josep Borrell spoke about the other day. As Senator Aleksey Pushkov rightly notes, “it is not entirely clear how, with such cracks between EU allies, Brussels intends to turn the European Union into a geopolitical player with a common foreign policy: it clearly did not work out with Britain, the new dissident is Poland, which has insurance in the face of the United States.”
The “nuclear option” is offered by the French newspaper Les Echos. The publication calls for thinking about two fundamental issues – the degree of integration of the EU and its “geographical coverage”. Too rapid expansion of the European Union is seen as what led the EU to the current “sad situation”. And all because some people really wanted to get the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) out of “Russia’s influence”.
“Faced today with the new challenges that lie ahead – the withdrawal of the United States from Europe and even the competition of Americans with the EU, the appearance of China on the continent, migration flows, global warming and others – Europe must speak with a single strong voice and not be exposed to the risk of a ‘stab in the back’ from one of its members,” the newspaper emphasises. Therefore, the EU is obliged to “refocus on its historical part, 12-15 states, to which CEE countries, sincerely interested in deep integration, can be added”.
Obviously, Warsaw is not seen among the latter. It is still difficult to say whether the “nuclear option” of the re-establishment of the European Union will be applied in the end. But one thing is for sure: in 1918, the death of the Austro-Hungarian, German and Russian Empires led to the restoration of Poland’s independence, and now Poland itself is becoming the “gravedigger” of the modern imperial project, the European Union.