August 12th 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The lessons for euthanasia are there for the learning

EDITORIAL Shorten's agenda will cripple Australia

CANBERRA OBSERVED Candidates must polish their paperwork skills

FOREIGN AFFAIRS EU v Poland: disquiet on the eastern front

EUTHANASIA How safe will Victoria's 'locked tin' be?

ASIA-PACIFIC AFFAIRS Pacific likely to focus for Taiwan's Iron Lady

PHILOSOPHY Aristotle and the virtues as products of reason

FEDERAL POLITICS Backbench marriage push angers Coalition colleagues

MUSIC Time and times: Melody is moments gathered for an instant

CINEMA Dunkirk: When survival is victory

BOOK REVIEW Just socialism by another name?

BOOK REVIEW The rightness of goading the left


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EU v Poland: disquiet on the eastern front

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, August 12, 2017

After a period of stability following the French election, which saw the overwhelming victory of Emmanuel Macron’s new party in the National Assembly, the European Union’s unity is being challenged from a surprising quarter: Eastern Europe.

Economically, the former communist states of Eastern Europe have been among the best performers in Europe since they joined the EU over 10 years ago.

But three countries in the region – Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic – have directly refused to accept the new migration quotas that the EU has established to handle the influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa, and are being threatened with sanctions by the EU. As the three countries are outside the Eurozone, the sanctions that the EU can impose are limited to restricting voting rights in EU forums.

Interestingly, when Poland joined the EU in 2004, it agreed to adopt the euro as its currency at an unspecified time in the future.

However, the global financial crisis in 2007–08, followed by the financial crises in Greece and Spain – which were resolved by EU-imposed budget controls and a guarantee that other Eurozone states would provide bail-out capital – significantly eroded support for the common European currency.

This is despite the fact that around 80 per cent of Polish international trade is accountable in euros, so entering the Eurozone will greatly decrease currency risk and simplify transactions with foreign companies for Poland.

Judicial appointments

The EU is also at odds with Poland over the governing Law and Justice Party’s plan to give the Government control over judicial appointments.

The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, is a political opponent of the Law and Justice Party, having been leader of Poland’s Civic Platform Party, and is a former prime minister of Poland.

In a further complication in relations between the EU and Poland, Tusk has been summoned for questioning as a witness in a Polish investigation into the 2010 plane crash in Russia that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others.

The national prosecutor’s office has said it wants to ask Tusk why Poland failed to ensure the correct identification of crash victims, some of whose remains got buried in the wrong graves.

Lech Kaczynski’s twin brother now heads the Law and Justice Party. He has accused his long-time foe Tusk of partial responsibility for the crash and mishandling the investigation, allegations Tusk denies.

The EU has denounced recent Polish legislation as interference in the independence of the judiciary, while the Polish Government has repeatedly said that the Polish judicial system is unreformed since the communist era, and the judiciary is a self-appointed clique accountable to no one.

Sadly, both sides are correct.

As the EU points out, it is dangerous that the governing party should take control of all judicial appointments.

On the other side, the Polish judiciary, largely consisting of political appointees and critics of the present Government, used its power under the former government to cover up alleged corruption involving ministers in the former Civic Platform government, and now uses it to overturn the present Government’s legislation.

The EU has strongly objected to legislation to reconstitute the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court bill would have given the justice minister power to remove and appoint judges.

However, the elected Polish President, Andrzej Duda, said he would not sign the Supreme Court bill into law, saying he did not believe it would strengthen “the sense of justice” in the country. He did, however, sign into law a bill that gave the justice minister power to appoint the heads of lower courts.

This, in turn, prompted warnings from the European Commission, which said it was launching an “infringement proceeding against Poland for breaches of EU law”.

Poland has been given a month to respond.

The EU, which is clearly hostile to the Law and Justice Government in Poland, needs to move slowly, because heavy-handed action will undoubtedly lead to increasing support for the Law and Justice Party inside Poland.

The next Polish election is due to be held in two years time, and the Government has a strong lead in the opinion polls.

Hungary backs Poland

A further complication is that the adoption of sanctions against a member state requires the unanimous vote of other states, and at least one, Hungary, has announced that it will not support such a move.

Relations between Poland and the EU will also be influenced by the course of negotiations between Britain and the EU over Brexit.

The Eurosceptic Law and Justice Party will be watching closely whether Britain is able to retain a strong economic and trading relationship with the EU, while taking control of its borders and national sovereignty.

The last thing the EU wants is the withdrawal of a large member state in Eastern Europe, particularly one with a growing economy, like Poland.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm