Daniel Freund

23. February 2022 Anti-Corruption

The rule of law in Poland is under enormous threat. Judges are being harassed, opposition members are publicly defamed and civil society organizations are being marginalized. These are the sad impressions of my trip to Warsaw this week. After numerous meetings in the last three very moving days, I can understand even less why the EU Commission is delaying action that would protect the rule of law

Members of the European Parliament traveled to Warsaw on Monday. I joined this trip because gaining impressions on the ground is always more insightful and intense than just participating in the parliamentary committee work. We spoke with representatives of the judiciary, the media, business and civil society. It was very saddening to see and hear how systematically the Polish government is undermining the rule of law and attacking those who think differently. Not a single governmental representative accepted our invitation to meet with them.

Systematic actions against judicial independence

On Wednesday, I had the chance to speak with judges and prosecutors whose work – and application of European law – has put them in the government’s crosshairs. They have publically been declared enemies of Poland, transferred to other offices, defamed on posters, and in some cases even had their private homes attacked with eggs. All this happened because they wanted to carry out their work independently.

In recent years, the Polish courts have been filled with loyal judges. The European Court of Justice has repeatedly declared this practice to be incompatible with the principles of the rule of law. Still, nothing happened. As a result, judgements which have come about illegally are issued almost every day, having an impact on the lives of millions of EU citizens. 

The European Commission needs to act immediately!

The enormous scale of the damage to the rule of law in Poland is shocking and stands in sharp contrast to the Commission’s official line, according to which more time is needed to evaluate the problems in the country. Questionable court rulings; forced transfers of prosecutors away from their families and wiretapping of opposition members with the help of the Pegasus software are all events which cannot simply be undone when the Commission finally decides to trigger the rule of law mechanism.

Measures need to be taken immediately to make clear: We will not tolerate the dismantling of democracy!

The Commission may continue to act with restraint so as not to offend its partners in Warsaw in view of the current crisis on the European eastern border. However, I consider this approach to be misguided. Especially in the face of an outside autocratic threat it is important that Europe keeps its ranks closed and protects its values at home. 

We Europeans must uphold our values, our democracy and the rule of law – doing so is the best remedy against autocratic threats from within or outside the EU. 

Not a single governmental representative accepted our invitation to meet with them.