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On 15 November, the European Parliament (EP) ‘debated’ the situation in Poland, by which it means the perceived “clear risk of a serious breach” of European values enshrined in the EU Treaty. It decided (438 votes in favour, 152 against, 71 abstentions) to prepare a formal request that the Council activate Article 7.1, with MEP’s voicing, what the EP press release calls “specific concerns about the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary and fundamental rights.”

The press-release then mentions five points of concern:

1) The EP calls on Poland not to proceed the new laws unless they fully guarantee the independence of the judiciaryto implement all EU Commission and Venice Commission recommendations in full,
2) to comply with the EU Court of Justice order to “immediately suspend large-scale logging” in the ancient Białowieża forest,
3) to respect the right of freedom of assembly, but yet at the same time to
4) strongly condemn what the EP calls the “xenophobic and fascist march that took place in Warsaw” on Saturday, 11 November 2017, and
5) to take a firm stand on women’s rights, by providing free and accessible contraception without discrimination and making emergency contraception available without medical prescription.”

An eclectic mixture of demands, the connection of which with the rule of law and democracy are not clear for all. What becomes clear from the adopted text is an extensive involvement by European Parliament with both the daily affairs in Poland, where, for example, it calls on the Polish authorities to

investigate (…) media reports of police surveillance of opposition and civil society leaders, (…) and to fully respect the privacy of all citizens,

but also

strongly reaffirms its support for women’s rights organisations, as they have recently been the target of legal prosecution;

without providing a context, or examples. This odd mixture of accusations of Poland that are at the same time specific and low-resolution, do not suggest trust in either Polish politics or institutions, while simultaneously carrying a strong political message, almost to the point of activism. This is not a happy combination for a supranational organisation that, at least in name, delegates power to the lowest level.

Polish opposition to the vote, as voiced by MEP Ryszard Antoni Legutko, stresses in an earlier Motion for resolution that the legislation in question was part of an ongoing process, and that

(…) the Commission, in its dialogue with Poland, is referring to an ongoing legislative process and is thus becoming a participant in an internal political debate, which does not facilitate a substantive resolution of the dispute (…).

During the debate, Legutko went as far as to accuse First Vice-President Timmermans of applying double standards, telling him:

Please do not tell me that you represent the law, that you represent values. All these activities of the Commission against Poland are unlawful acts that break European treaties. And the fact that these actions are here plagued by Parliament does not make them less unlawful. You have the majority here. You can all vote for what you want, even if two plus two are five. But the truth is that these are illegal activities.

After his speech, in which he further called the proceedings a “Crusade against Poland“, comparing it to Soviet-Union treatment of Warsaw-Pact member-states and stated that:

This is not about the rule of law, it is about raw power,

Legutko left the proceedings. Interestingly enough, Legutko was called out on this by two MEP’s, Guy Verhofstadt who asked Legutko, leaving the room, why he did not stay for the debate, and Sophia in ’t Veld, who chided Legutko for being

afraid to answer any questions – he just made his statement and left, and that is symptomatic. In a democracy, you have debate: you have dialogue, questions and answers and an exchange of positions, and he just gives a monologue and leaves. That is called cowardice.

Ironically, especially after calling Legutko a coward, both Verhofstadt and In ‘t Veld refused to answer questions put to them in EP.