Since I last blogged about how the EU’s Rule of Law Framework works and why Article 7 have been triggered against Poland and Hungary, a long list political developments took place both in Hungary and in Poland, as well as in the UK; some are positive and some are negative, but then this is relative to where you stand politically.
Theresa May introduced her long negotiated Withdrawal Agreement to the British in November. It was as affective as a bombshell. It even surprised those who were actively engaged in the process of negotiating this deal; like former Brexit Minister, Dominic Raab, who happened to resign immediately over the deal and who said that he could not support the deal. It was a bewildering moment that the Brexit Minister resigns over the deal of which he was part. It did not make sense and still does not. However the subsequent resignations, and disunity among and within the governing and the opposition political parties over the deal not only have overshadowed Raab’s resignation, but have also made everything more complicated to follow.
At least there was one certain thing until 10th of December, which was the vote in the House of Commons on the WA on the following day, until Theresa May delayed that too another date, upon realising that she could not guarantee a majority in the Commons. What happens now is the pressing question.
Both the Irish backstop and disunited political parties have been the main cause of volatility in the British politics in relation to Brexit. Whether order and stability can be restored into British politics with a tweaked WA (if agreed by Brussels), I don’t see how that is happening, thus the point of delaying the vote does not make sense, unless she knows something we don’t. Is more than a tweak to the WA possible? As of now the officials say that they could issue a statement clarifying that the EU does not want to trap the UK under the bloc’s authority. Can she secure any concessions? We all have to wait and see, but I believe that is highly unlikely.
Moving on to alleged Polexit, the local elections of October and the reinstatement of the Supreme Court judges have been the highlights of the last two months for me, as far as the Polish politics in concerned. Plus there seems to be a degree of causality between the results of the October local elections and having the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) opting to take a step back from its judicial reforms.
When the PiS lost the control of some of the municipalities to the opposition political parties during the local elections of October, they began to reflect on what might have gone wrong or what they have done wrong. Since 2015 the PiS administration have not been harmonious with the EU, they not only they stood against a EU common policy, that is being the EU’s migration quote scheme, but have also domestically introduced and passed laws that are against the EU’s core values, the judicial reform is being one of them, threatening independence of judiciary and giving more authority to the politicians. Thus there has been an ongoing tension between the Polish administration and the EU institutions, be that the European Commission and the European Parliament. This meant that Poland was no longer seen as the beacon of stability in the Central and Eastern Europe, but as a troublemaker.
Although I have never heard it from anyone from the PiS, during the election campaign it was however suggested by the opposition political parties, such as the Civic Platform (PO), that the PiS was inching towards Polexit. This is something Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister and the serving President of the European Council, have also reiterated by comparing the situation in Poland with the situation in Britain before Brexit, and claimed that Poland could end up leaving the bloc as a result of miscalculation. It is true that Polish administration’s Conservative and illiberal policy choices make Poland distant from the core values of the EU and this is why Article 7 was triggered against Poland.
However I would not stretch it that far to claim that Poland is inching close to leave the EU as the membership to the EU is very popular among the PiS and the public. Since the most recent survey published by the newspaper Rzeczpospolita found that 84 per cent of Poles wanted their country to stay in the union, while only 8 per cent wanted to leave. It may be that the opposition political parties’ campaign about Polexit and the existing tension between Poland and the EU have played up to the fears of the people that Poland might leave the EU, which then have shaped their voting intentions, contributing to the PiS’s loss of votes in October elections. In response to this the PiS officials denied any intention to leave the EU and is working towards neutering this line of attack before Poland holds European and domestic parliamentary elections next year. Plus the PiS’s latest u-turn on the judiciary reform do demonstrate how much EU membership is important for the PiS; particularly after having to agree to reinstate Supreme Court judges.
Whereas situation in Hungary is now more bleak and alarming than ever. Just after a week an independent University, the Central European University, had been forced to exit from Budapest, Orban’s government did not miss any time to pass another controversial law, tightening the control of the courts, despite the ongoing Article 7 procedure.
Despite having to complied to the last year’s law that required that the foreign universities to have classes in their home countries in order to enroll students in Hungary by opening a program in New York, Orban’s administration refused to sign the necessary paperwork for the CEU to be able to operate in Hungary.
Once it became official, yes there were criticisms from different EU circles and the US over the forced exit of the CEU. None however were affective enough to change the fate of the CEU. Silence from the European People’s party (EPP), of which Fidesz is part of, were the most deafening. At one point in the past the EPP had set the closure of the CEU as a red line, but they did not take any action which would stop this forced exit, which meant that Orban’s administration was once again able to behave as they wished. Since European elections are fast approaching, and so the short term interests of the agents involved in these elections are prioritised at the expense of the EU’s core values on which the EU was once established.
Since Orbán did get away with the CEU-exit, on the 12th of December, his administration approved a law that will further tighten his hold over the country’s court system by creating a new high court to deal with public-administration cases and brought it under the government’s oversight. The legislation strips the supreme court of its ultimate authority over so-called administrative disputes — cases involving everything from elections and corruption to taxes and police abuse — and creates a new court overseen by his justice minister. From now on the Justice Minister pick the new court’s judges and control its budget. This meant that Orbán continues to shape the Hungarian state structure in his own illiberal image, threatening the EU’s liberal standing.
Above three cases show that either membership to the EU is a cause of instability for all the three countries including the UK, Poland and Hungary or these countries are cause of worrisome for the EU. While there are now two option in relation to UK’s position in the EU:(1) no deal Brexit and (2) no Brexit: at least that is some clarity in some form, that will be something for the UK and the EU to decide. However the situation for Poland and Hungary are totally different, they do favour the EU membership and do like to remain as members. Yet they opt for policy choices that are in contradiction with the EU’s core values. When it is in their benefit they agree to make a u-turn on these policy choices, like we have seen it in Poland, otherwise they push their agenda as far as they can however radical it is, like Fidesz did in Hungary. Thus we should be concerned about the current state of affairs.