Poland, the suspension of voting rights and restrictive measures on EU funding

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The European Union will have to take measures with respect to the new Polish government if it does not want to jeopardise the credibility of the European values. To send a clear signal to the new Polish government, it has to be willing to exploit the entire range of options under the rule-of-law mechanism and the procedure in accordance with Article 7 as well as to limit EU payments to Poland.

Poland, the suspension of voting rights and restrictive measures on EU funding

After the newly elected Polish government and president attacked the separation of powers in Poland during Christmas season, every citizen of the European Union is faced with two questions. Firstly: Do I want this new Polish government to keep its right to vote on my European matters in the Council of the European Union? Secondly: Do I want this new Polish government to continue to receive the highest net amount of EU net payments, which means European tax payers’ money?

The rule of law mechanism and the procedure under Article 7

On the first question: During their next meeting on January 13, the European Commission will deal with the situation in Poland. It is likely to activate the early warning mechanism, if it does not want to loose its own credibility concerning the protection of the rule of law in the European Union. The Polish government would be given a formal notice concerning the adherence to rule of law principles. Of course, this will not be the end of it. The Polish government will have to make a statement; it will probably not want to back down. In consequence, the Commission would – after a public justifying statement analysing the matter – be able to recommend changes to or the rescission of the laws on the Polish constitutional court and the media. Such a request would have to have a deadline. If the Polish government remains obstinate and ignores the recommendations, the Council would be able to determine that there is “a clear risk of a serious breach” of the values referred to in Article 2, such as freedom, democracy, rule of law and pluralism. For such statement it would need 22 out of 27 member state votes: only 27 members because Poland itself would not be eligible to vote. If the Polish government still didn’t come to its senses, the European Council would be able to unanimously determine the existence of “a serious and persistent breach” of the European values. This is, however, very unlikely as Mr Orban from Hungary would have to agree. Nevertheless, even if no unanimous decision is reached in the end: the European Union – having not achieved a satisfactory reaction by the Polish government in prior – would seize the opportunity to make a clear statement about its values and identity. And if – after all these steps – Hungary would be the only country to negate the existence of “a serious and persistent breach” of the values, this would imply the question whether the Hungarian government itself finally qualifies for its own procedure under Article 7. At the same time, the pressure to carry out reforms for a Union, which is better able to act, would increase. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Either way, it is time for the European Union to decide whether it want to be recognized by the people on the basis of a clear profile or if it just wants to continue to muddle through at it has done in the past. The Union should not shy away from taking the procedure to a vote in the European Council and it should be willing to take it even through to the complete suspension of voting rights of the new Polish government. In 2019, the Polish people would have the next possibility to elect a new government, which could then receive a renewed right to vote in the Council.

Limiting net payments to the new Polish government?

According to the European Commission, Poland received a net amount of almost 14 billion euros in European tax payers’ money in 2014. So, in terms of absolute figures, Poland was the major net beneficiary of the European Union by far. It was followed by Hungary, which received 5.7 billion euros in 2014. This means that Hungary received the highest net amount per capita throughout the Union. This situation is completely absurd; those governments which violate the values laid down in Article 2 receive most funding for their people from Brussels. At the same time, Europe is faced with the refugee crisis and millions of unemployed young people in Greece, Italy and Spain. And 2014 was by no means an exception. In the past, the figures for Poland and Hungary were similar and the planning of the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014-2020 points in the same direction. Under the current Multiannual Financial Framework, Poland alone is supposed to receive a record sum of around 75 billion euros. Let us compare: With a Polish gross domestic product of 413 billion euros in 2014, net payments of 14 billion euros amount to about 3.4 percent of GDP. If Germany had received such a percentage in 2014, it wouldn’t have had to make net payments in the amount of 15.5 billion, but receive a net amount of about 99 billion euros from Brussels.

Now, what can be done against the new Polish government attacking the separation of power and fundamental values of the European Union while even benefiting from European tax payers? Firstly, all and any payments made to Poland by the European Union must be reviewed immediately. This directly concerns all payments during the financial year 2016 of the EU. Secondly, the behaviour by the Polish government needs to play a pivotal role during the review of the Multiannual Financial Framework at the end of 2016. And thirdly, its behaviour consistently has to be taken into consideration regarding the new Financial Framework for 2021-2028, for which the European Commission has to submit a first draft by the end of the coming year.

The European Union has to act and stand its ground to keep its justification

The year 2016 will be the decisive year for the European Union. If the EU does not succeed in effectively defending its values referred to in Article 2 and in developing a clear profile recognized by its citizens, its days will be numbered. This is true not only with a view to the violation of such values in Poland and Hungary but also regarding the solution to the refugee issue which continues to be absolutely deficient. It also holds true for the Greek ability to implement reforms as well as a potential Finnish withdrawal from the Euro zone and a possible Brexit. To be clear: The failure of the European Union would be a disaster for all of its 500 million citizens – for each and every one of them!

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