Lights Out! Polish People’s Opposition to Government’s Veto of EU Budget and COVID-19 Recovery Fund

Michiel Versteegh: A Woman in a Kitchen by Candlelight // Public domain

“I urge the rulers to come to their senses! It is not too late! […] Go back to the rule of law, and the conflict with the European Union will resolve itself. However, if you cause Poland to lose enormous sums of money for further development and reconstruction, and also take us out of our European home, neither history nor th people will forgive you,” the Speaker of the Polish Senate, Tomasz Grodzki, appealed to the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party during his appearance on TV Poland on November 27. Although this is a media channel considered to be the “mouthpiece” of the PiS, it is prohibited by law to refuse a public statement by the Speaker, even if he or she is a representative of the opposition.

What was the impetus for such a public statement? Why the need to make an appeal to the rulers by reaching out to the widest segment of the Polish population?

This message seems to be not only a voice of reason, not only a call to the rulers for reflection. Most of all, it draws the attention of citizens to the drama Poland will have to face if it vetoes the proposed European Union (EU) budget and coronavirus recovery fund.

Poland decided in favor of the veto partially in light of the EU’s activation of Article 7 on December 20, 2017. The Polish government is attempting to justify the veto by stating that it is defending itself and thereby affirming its power. Unsurprisingly, linking the disbursement of EU funds to compliance with the rule of law is inconvenient for a country where the latter is clearly threatened. After all, Poland is the first country in the history of the EU against which Article 7, often referred to as the “nuclear option”, has been used. The justification for its use is the increasing disregard of the rule of law in Poland, the politicization of the judiciary, and the undermining of the independence of the Constitutional Tribunal. Consequently, numerous cases involving the Polish government are pending before the European Court of Justice.

In the fight against both its own citizens and the EU, the Polish government has found an ally in Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban. Both countries have in recent years weakened the rule of law and have vetoed the EU’s €1.8 trillion budget and coronavirus recovery fund. To boost the voice of both countries, the respective prime ministers met in Budapest on Thursday, November 28 and defended their countries in a joint statement, arguing that the proposed EU mechanism is arbitrary and could be used as a tool for putting political pressure on sovereign countries. Prime Minister Morawiecki later echoed his position on the Polish veto during a video conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, November 29. Meanwhile, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, proposed that the disputed EU regulation, which makes the payment of EU funds conditional on the rule of law, be appealed to the Court of Justice of the European Union, which would verify compliance with the EU treaties. Sounds fair enough.

The prime ministers of both countries maintained their position, while mentioning the possibility of a compromise after their meeting in Warsaw on November 30. However, even now, just before the EU summit scheduled for December 10-11, which will be decisive for the EU budget, Morawiecki and Orban are seeking support behind the scenes for the veto in Slovenia and Portugal.

Against this background, the speech by the Speaker of the Polish Senate sounds even more dramatic. He recalled the shameful role that the right to veto has played in the history of Poland, leading the country to a progressive separation of the law, which in 1795 resulted in partitions and Poland’s 123-year absence from the world map. Mr. Grodzki also warned that in the event of a veto, “farmers, entrepreneurs, local governments, medics – none of us will get the money”. As such, “wee expect respect for the national interest and a withdrawal of the veto threat, so contrary to Polish reason. It is against Poland’s economic, political and strategic interests.” This is a voice of reason that is not often heard in today’s Poland.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, December 1, the lights went out in many Polish houses, offices, and public buildings to show the people’s condemnation of the government’s veto of the EU’s budget and coronavirus recovery fund. It is a symbolic response to the ignorance and short-sightedness of our government. It is also a message for the ruling United Right that Poles are aware of the destructive consequences this veto would mean for all of us.

The article is syndicated by Network.

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