E.U. Reminds Poland How a Democracy Acts30 December 2017 | 15:00 | The New York Times
It was nothing of the sort. The European Commission had repeatedly warned Poland’s governing Law and Justice party that its sustained efforts to undermine judicial independence were an unacceptable assault on a basic tenet of the European Union and of Western democracy. And when the Polish government passed laws this month that politicized judicial appointments by giving the Law and Justice-dominated legislature control over the body that makes the selections, the commission was left with no option but to invoke Article 7 of the union treaty.
The article is often referred to as the “nuclear option” of the European Union because it is the most serious sanction available. In fact, it is more symbolic than punitive. Poland has three months to address the commission’s concerns, and if it does not, the union will need the agreement of all other members to actually strip Poland of its vote. Hungary, for one, has vowed to veto any such measure. But simply invoking Article 7 for the first time in the union’s history is an extraordinary rebuke to the government and Law and Justice’s powerful leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
That Mr. Kaczynski and his ilk have no regard for the rule of law has long been obvious. Since bringing Law and Justice back to power in 2015, he has assailed any opposition to his nationalist agenda, whether from the bloc, the news media, liberal parties or the courts, as a subversion of the people’s (i.e., his) will.
Much of that is for the Polish people to resolve. An independent judiciary, however, is not only the bulwark of the democratic order to which Poland signed on when it joined the European Union, but a fundamental requirement for the functioning of a single market. Upholding the treaties on which the union is based is indisputably within the European Commission’s purview.
The European Commission was right to invoke Article 7. It must follow that up by sternly explaining to Mr. Kaczynski’s followers and other nationalist forces across Europe that there are red lines they cannot cross — not because Brussels so wills, but for their own sake. An independent judiciary is chief among them.
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