A trend that has become increasingly more noticeable over the past several years is the democratic erosion of Eastern European institutions, which is seen clearly in countries such as Belarus, Hungary, and Poland, the latter of which will be discussed in relation to the Law and Justice (PiS) party, LGBTQ+ rights, and Polish institutions being at odds with those of the European Union.
In August 2021, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal postponed a ruling on whether EU law supersedes the Polish constitution and law until September 22, making this the fourth time the ruling has been postponed and worsening the relationship between Warsaw and Brussels. In March, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki filed the case, which conflicts with rules set by the European Commission that state the precedence of EU law over national constitutions. However, the current government of Poland demands further confirmation from the tribunal about whether the EU has the right to dictate certain national governmental processes, such as how judges are appointed. The president of the tribunal Julia Przyłębska stated that she had to adjourn the meeting due to a procedural motion filed for the Polish ombudsman Marcin Wiącek, who requested that one of the judges be dismissed from the hearing. Beyond the external conflict between the EU and Poland’s government autonomy, the tribunal is thought to be under the control of the ruling PiS and therefore has led to questions of whether tribunal judges have been appointed fairly.
Poland also found itself in trouble with the European Union regarding the lack of LGBTQ+ rights in the country. Members of the European Parliament voted in September in favor (387 votes in favor, 161 votes against) of a resolution that would call on the European Commission to consider enacting sanctions against Poland and Hungary for breaking “European” values in violating LGBTQ+ rights and action against Poland for “violating principles of non-discrimination” of LGBTQ+ people.” The resolution criticized Poland’s “LGBTI-free zones” as well as “hostile rhetoric” from politicians and increases in homophobia- and transphobia-related violence. The resolution also takes issue with the possibility of transgender parents losing legal recognition of their gender when crossing a border, which could therefore make them lose their parental rights; the resolution instead encourages “rainbow families” to be given the same rights and freedom of movement in all EU states. Further, Polish regions had adopted resolutions in 2019 and 2020 controlled by the PiS as part of several anti-LGBTQ+ ideas in order to gain more support in the parliamentary and presidential elections. However, these symbolic resolutions would actually result in the European Commission pulling billions of Euros from its regional program. This would be especially detrimental to Poland, as the country had financially benefited from better infrastructure, environmental protection, cultural initiatives, and helped develop its technology industry since joining the EU in 2004. The European Commission’s response to Poland’s resolutions coincides with the investigation procedure the Commission initiated in August when Warsaw reportedly didn’t respond to the EU’s query concerning supposed “LGBT-ideology free zones.” The Commission’s investigation came out of a concern that these “zones” may violate EU law with respect to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. After several months of debate, regional assemblies agreed to withdraw the resolutions to prevent the loss of EU funds. The withdrawal is supported by the PiS, as losing EU money during an upcoming election could result in public criticism; however, the smaller right-wing United Poland party has vilified the retreat, calling the EU’s threat “blackmail.”
More recently, Poland along with Hungary have requested that the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) strike down a new law that allows the EU to suspend funds to countries that are considered to be breaking the rule of law. This request comes just a few days after both Poland and Hungary had rejected the CJEU’s jurisdiction in the wake of both countries having been accused by the EU of democratic backsliding. Regarding the increasingly authoritarian tendencies expressed by some EU states, a measure was passed in December 2020 which would permit the EU to take action regarding rule-of-law breaches that would ultimately affect the management or budget of the bloc’s financial interests. In response to this law, the governments in Warsaw and Budapest fear losing millions of cohesion funds from the EU as well as funds for economic development; the incident has therefore led to the Polish and Hungarian governments asking for aid from the EU courts despite Poland previously ruling that the CJEU did not have the right to interfere concerning its judicial reforms.
Eastern European states such as Poland are experiencing right-wing authoritarian development that coincides with the erosion of democratic rights, especially those who identify with the LGBTQ+ community. Despite the tightening control the Polish government has over the state’s government and courts, it seems that Poland is willing to retract policies such as the “LGBT-free zones” when faced with the prospect of financial punishment from the European Parliament. Thus, the threat of profit loss could be a potential solution to growing the authoritarianism of some countries in the European Union, since these are usually the same countries that are in need of some level of developmental assistance.