Lessons for Polish Government: We Are All from the EU

https://www.flickr.com/photos/staboslaw/36075687105/in/photostream/ || CC 4.0
staboslaw via Flickr || CC 4.0

For many years, we’ve been a part of a European community in which there are no internal matters of a given country but rather solely common matters related to the Union.

The controversies that have recently surrounded the statements of Donald Tusk following the situation in Poland tell us more about how much the Polish right wing fears the former prime minister than about the issues that the President of the European Council drew our attention. This gave the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party yet another set of arguments to prove their recurring theory that “anti-PiS movement keeps blowing the whistle on Poland”. Earlier, some of the Civic Platform MPs had voted in favor of the resolution put forward by the European Parliament that calls for Polish government to respect the rule of law. Once again, accusations of betrayal from the ruling party followed with Law and Justice claiming that the opposition indeed wants sanctions for Poland.

A recent tweet by Donald Tusk paired with a statement by German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen evoked a predictable reaction from the Polish government and the right wing. Accusations, the same as usual, followed: betrayal, using others to do our bidding, not minding one’s own business. The question is: isn’t it the business of us all? Nevertheless, both cases are slightly different so let us take a closer look at the situation.

Donald Tusk tweeted “Alarm! A harsh conflict with Ukraine, isolation of the EU, departure from the rule of law and independence of the judiciary, launched attacks on NGO sector and free media – the strategy of Law and Justice or Kremlin’s plan?” The president of the Council of Europe, referred to as the President of the EU, Donald Tusk, stated what most of average Joes in Poland who have a broader understanding of the consequences of the current situation (not only in Poland, but internationally) already know. The policy of the PiS government (especially of the individuals the likes of Antonii Macierewicz, Minister of National Defence for Poland, who, according to journalists, surrounds himself with the former agents for Russia) brings us much closer to the s-called Putin-Erdogan model of a state.

But coming back to the key controversy, Ursula von der Leyen, German Defence Minister, stated that Germany (and the whole EU, by extension) should support young, civic-oriented and pro-democratic groups within the Polish society.

The authors of these statements have brought on themselves harsh criticism from the Polish right wing for meddling in the internal matters of the Polish state by other states (in von der Leyen’s case) and blowing the whistle on one’s home country (in Tusk’s case). Of course, these outraged people do not recall instances when not so long ago the European Parliament or on the international stage Law and Justice kept referring to “hiding of the truth” about the Smolensk “assassination”, limiting the freedom of media (namely the Catholic TV Trwam), or the claims of President Andrzej Duda that Poland is not a fair and just country, and so on.

Let us make this clear: no blowing the whiste on Poland has taken place here. It has not because the matters concerning Poland are precisely also the EU matters. And since they are EU matters, this makes them also German matters etc. Ergo, it is ludicrous to talk about this being an instance of “blowing the whistle on Poland”.

We are perfectly aware that this might not be the most popular belief and yet it is based on facts. There is at least a dozen of arguments to prove it – yet, let me discuss just the two main ones.

First of all, although the EU does not constitute a state yet, it has some features that make it appear as one. Most of all, it fulfills (to a certain degree) the classical definition of a state (Georg Jellinek), which assumes having power, people, and territory. The emanation of power are institutions and the politicians who are in charge of them. The people mean all of us, the citizens of EU member states. We all have dual citizenship. It is also clear that the EU has its territory – a best proof of that is that within the EU the EU law is in force and so it bids all EU citizens.

And that is exactly the second, most important argument: within the EU there are no non-EU matters. All people who reside in the EU territory are subject to the EU law everywhere and at all times. It is the same as when you happen to be in Warsaw, you are subject to regulation of the city of Warsaw, but also to the Polish law and the EU law. Moreover, the EU law is by definition superior to the laws of member states.

That is why when somebody robs a bank in Warsaw it is also my business, even if I live in another city. If somebody violates the Constitution and this person’s actions have a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of all human kind – as is the case of the Białowieża Forest – then it is the business of all Germans, every Swede, and all other EU citizens. This is why the government of an EU member state which falls in the category of a hostile and uncongenial empire poses a problem for the entire EU. And it is the duty of its President (as well as of all its citizens) to try to put a stop to it.

It is high time we put an end to the way of thinking that contradicts facts and according to which, the EU and its member states have nothing to do with us. That the level of their presence is no greater than between two random voivodeships in Poland. After all, since the politicians from both such random voivodeships still have a say in what Poland should look like – nay, they even decide about the regulations binding residents of other vovodeships – then German politicians, and even more so the EU authorities, have the right to say or decide on what is happening in Poland. And clearly, this mechanism works also in the other direction. Especially when it is a common good that is being destroyed: freedom, democracy, and natural resources. The real reason for us to worry would be a scenario in which the residents of one voivodeship in Poland started to ignore what is going on in other voivodeships – or if Germans started ignoring Poland. That would make for a short-sighted, irresponsible but also anti-pubic-spirited attitude.

We may call this way of looking at the situation we’re in internationalism or cosmopolitanism. Yet, this does not chage the fact that for many years Poland has been a part of the community in which there are no internal matters of a given state. Even when talking about exclusive competences of member states (eg. the protection and improvement of human health, indusry, cuture, tourism, etc.) these still are a part of the EU law, which is and shall be the same for all citizens within the EU.

The article was originally published in Polish at: http://liberte.pl/wszyscy-jestesmy-z-unii-europejskiej/

Karol Chwedczuk-Szulc