Poland and the EU’s Future: Questions and Answers

9 October, 2021

Poland and EU

What is the problem between the EU and Poland? Is the authoritarian drift of Hungary and Poland real or just an excuse? Do the Polish arguments have any basis? Does the PiS (Polish ruling party) want a “Polexit”? Why is this battle so important and why is the European Commission being so blunt now?

Table of Contents

What is the problem between the EU and Poland?

Formally, the European Commission and Parliament have been since 2017 trying to force Poland to reverse its reform of the judiciary, which they deem as endangering the “rule of law.”

In reality, the problem runs deeper, in both Poland and Hungary, the coming to power of pro-sovereignty expressions of petty-bourgeois revolt have driven centrifugal forces within the EU.

From the beginning, the need to discipline both countries was clear to the main European bourgeoisies in order to maintain the European framework and to be able to maintain a minimum cohesion in the face of the USA and China. But also, if they were not careful, the confrontation with Poland could end in fiasco and further whip up nationalist forces throughout the continent.

Is the authoritarian drift in Hungary and Poland real or just an excuse?

Mateusz Morawiecki, prime minister of Poland, and Victor Orban
Mateusz Morawiecki, prime minister of Poland, and Victor Orban

It is completely real. An inevitable product of the coming to political power of the angry petty bourgeoisie. And yes, so is the totalitarian character of the reforms of the judiciary denounced by the EU.

If the rule of law question has become a central issue in the conflict between states and national capitals within the EU, it is because it is the main German argument to discipline the leading countries of the Visegrad group which are also, economically speaking, true German semi-colonies. But the question is far from being a mere invention of the propagandist battle among the various imperialist interests. […]

In both countries [Hungary and Poland], the parties now in government in 2010 and 2015 respectively came to power on the back of a petty bourgeoisie increasingly angry and cornered by the global crisis. Constrained by the judicial apparatus and the laws, from the very first moment they began a series of legal changes targeting the heart of the organization of the state: Constitution, electoral system, media and opinion-making. The fracture with the judicial heart of the state became inevitable.

In 2018 the battle became open: three thousand of the country’s eight thousand judges resigned in protest against the pressures of the executive. The president [of Hungary, Orban,] created a parallel judicial circuit for everything affecting the political apparatus whereby the government itself chooses who is to be a judge.

Poland followed, with a judicial reform starting with mass retirements that is in reality a true battle plan to remake the structure of the state and remove and subdue the upper bureaucracy, true thread of continuity of Polish state capitalism since the 1920s.

From political crisis to state crisis, 10/16/2020

Do the Polish arguments have any basis

Polish Constitutional Court
Polish Constitutional Court

Theoretically the EU is a supranational organization of sovereign states. If regulations and laws passed in the complex European bureaucratic system can be applied directly (regulations) or set minimums for national laws by forcing national parliaments to legislate (directives), it is because the individual members’ constitutions explicitly permit it.

But let’s not forget that the EU is established by a set of treaties whose aim is to establish an effective unified market in economic terms, but little more than inter-state coordination in political terms.

However, the EU has been slipping into regulating – and thus centralizing around the interests of German capital, fundamentally – a whole set of issues that although it can be argued that they affect market unity, in reality go much further. The EU thus went from being a European union to becoming a process of European centralization.

Friction with the state apparatus became inevitable. In fact the biggest challenge so far to the Union has come neither from Britain nor from the countries on the eastern borders, but from the German Constitutional Court, which in May 2020 arrogated to itself the right to curb the expansionary monetary policies of the European Central Bank in the name of its constitutional anti-inflationary mandate.

The ensuing blockade immediately put the recovery funds in jeopardy and led to the opening of an EU sanctions dossier. But the hard core of the German state did not want to break up the EU or really assert a greater space of national sovereignty, it only wanted to put pressure on Merkel. It was actually a moment in the process in which the German ruling class has become aware that its basic interest in the new bloc-forming scenario was no longer in imposing “austerity” on the other countries of the Union but in creating mechanisms that would maintain demand.

But the crisis created by the German Constitutional Court opened a new door for the Polish government. That’s why the prime minister asked a question to his own Constitutional Court, the answer to which is the one that has made headlines these days.

The Polish Constitutional Tribunal is saying that the primacy of EU law is limited only to those areas expressly granted in the treaties. In other words, all is well with regulations intended to ensure market unity. That said, the limits of the “rule of law” and the forms it takes, are left out.

Does the PiS (Polish ruling party) want a “Polexit”

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, PiS chairman, insists he does not and will not support a "Polexit"
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, PiS chairman, insists he does not and will not support a “Polexit”

The Polish government is encouraging the specter of “Polexit”, it is true, especially in its most right-wing factions. But with 80% support for EU membership in the polls it seems more like a rhetorical game aimed at delegitimizing the more pro-German factions of the Polish bourgeoisie – like the one led by Tusk- and gaining solidarity for their resistance both internally, and in other central and eastern countries of the continent.

Fundamentally, as of today, “Polexit” is just a scarecrow for the population to support a “middle ground” between the centralist tendencies that Brussels is rushing to embody and the hardline sovereignism of the most hardline sectors of the government

Beyond rhetorical games, the Polish bourgeoisie wants to keep the current battle within the margins of a debate on “the limits of European legislation” and neither the head of the government nor the PiS will go beyond that.

Why is this battle so important and why is the Commission being so blunt now?

Von der Leyen addresses a nearly empty Parliament in the State of the Union 2021 debate.
Von der Leyen addresses a nearly empty Parliament in the State of the Union 2021 debate.

The European Commission’s response to the Polish Constitutional Court’s position has been exceptionally categorical: according to Brussels, “EU law takes precedence over national law including constitutional provisions” and “all judgments of the Court [of Justice of the EU] are binding upon all authorities of the Member states.”

That is, what is being decided in this battle is, as Le Monde editorialized, what it means to join the EU: whether states can have political and institutional evolutions of their own or whether the constitutional framework is fixed from the top down and the EU, and its Court, have the right to set limits on it.

The Polish Constitutional argument actually appeals to the principles of any European state nationalist. There is no French Gaullist who does not think that perhaps the Fifth Republic imposed by de Gaulle would have been opposed today by Brussels, or Irish Social Christian who does not think of the long years of anti-abortion legislation sustained against the tide.

That is precisely why it is so important for the Commission and the big states to defeat the Polish position today, when the Polish government expects 36 billion euros from Brussels in recovery funds.

For the Commission, this is about establishing two things: first, vis-à-vis Poland, Hungary and even the Czech Republic, discipline within the bloc and its ability to maintain it. But also vis-à-vis Germany – where the pro-austerity FDP is about to enter government – and the “nordist” countries like the Netherlands, it intends to make it clear that the bloc’s cohesion, if it is saved, is thanks to the recovery funds.

Because it should not be forgotten that Brussels is betting on centralization with its cost, the continuity of the recovery funds as if they were a kind of European “federal budget”.

The State of the Union 2021 debate is the first to be held in this framework in which Germany, the so-called Nordist countries and France seem to have found a model – not at all cheap – to tame the centrifugal forces between EU partners… in the context of the economic quasi-collapse generated by the pandemic. From the point of view of the clashes of imperialist interests between member countries, the question is whether, past the worst part of the pandemic, the trend towards disintegration will remain or whether Germany and France will start a race towards centralization to consolidate the situation.

State of the Union 2021, 16/9/2021

If the pressure of the 36 billion were enough for Poland to relent and amend its Constitution establishing the supremacy of EU law, the need to maintain a massive budget in Brussels beyond the horizon of the current recovery funds would gain a strong argument against the countries and factions most resistant to the “transfer union”.

The EU, or what amounts to the same thing, the main imperialisms of the continent, would have found a formula apparently capable of institutionally defeating the centrifugal forces and continuing on the road towards the formation of an economic-military bloc.