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.
Dear Charlotte Smith,
Your political analyst of judicial matters and human rights as they pertain to political backsliding is exceptional. It considers two good points of erosion of western values: the independice of a fair and just judicial system, as well as the basic need for civil rights, e.g sexual orientation. Although I liked this post, there is more stipulations to consider about rule of law and the hostility of Polish Society, such as the dire need for gender equality.
To be more specific, it is the European Commission that has launched several investigations into the PiS’s interference of judicial independence. Rule of law plays a niche role in democratic integrity. A judge should be free of backlash from her or his executive or legislative counterparts. Polish Judges need independence, and Poland needs a better representation of ideology in their judicial branch because a majority of judges align with the majority party. Similar to the unfair treatment of judges, journalist are targeted by Warsaw. This is relevant to the judicial branch because news agencies create a fair and balance environment. This is especially true when considering that press coverage mobilize matters into the court.
Polish Police are keen to break up protest and suppress voices of opposition, sometimes they target groups that fit outside the conservative scope of Poland, like the LBGTQ+ Community of Poland. In recent news, the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper has been victim of unchecked police power, after Warsaw seized the computer of liberal reporter, Piotr Bakselerowicz. His editor, Roman Imielski, “said the police incursion took place without a warrant and “strikes against the fundamental right to journalistic secrecy in a democracy.” To fully encapsulate the decaying rule of law, it’s important to consider how independent news reporters are unfairly treated by The Polish National Government. Solidarity sought to end state oppression, yet their legacy is ignored by a far reaching PiS Party.
The second stipulation to build upon our shared perspective is the treatment of people in Poland. As you mentioned, The Polish Government unfairly bullies unorthodox families, such as those households with two moms, or two dads. As stated above, and mentioned by you, the police target and restrict gay rights activist, even going as far as eliminating them from the public view. To further advance this matter, it is important to consider how females are treated in Poland. There are many concerning points, and they’re worth sharing because gender equality is the bed rock of a free and open society. Having more woman in politics may aid to the effects of The EU threatening to cut funding to Poland over its social conservative laws.
1. In the past, the PiS government has also targeted women’s rights groups through raids and denial of funding, calling out activists supporting women’s rights and labelling their work as dangerous to families and traditional values. Our polling has shown that among EU member states, Poland has one of the highest percentages of hostile sexism, with 1-in-five Poles holding sexist views towards women. https://listentoeurope.info/polish-election-analysing-why-pis-won/
2. Since 2017, contraceptive pills have been available by prescription only, making Poland one of only two EU countries in which such a restriction is in place. A report by the NIK found that in many, especially rural, parts of Poland, gynecologists are rare; many women must travel to obtain care, and reliable and timely access to contraception and other sexual-health services are thus more difficult to obtain. https://freedomhouse.org/country/poland/freedom-world/2021
3. In 2011, Poland introduced its gender quota law, requiring that every district-level list prepared by a party includes at least 35 per cent of candidates of each gender. During the last election, the proportion of women among the candidates nearly doubled (an increase from 23 to 43.5 per cent), certainly because of quotas, but this was not accompanied by a comparable increase in the number of elected female MPs in the Sejm (Legislative Branch of Poland). Clearly, Poland has work to do. Although woman are able to vote, they lack gender representation and to create a gender equal society it is important to have both genders represented in office, especially when female candidates are running for office. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2014/09/23/polish-elections-demonstrate-the-limitations-of-gender-quotas-as-a-tool-for-increasing-female-representation/
I hope that my response to your post will inspire you to continue your investigation of Polish Backsliding. After all, Poland sought out to be a free society, and you are holding this nation to a level of accountability that 1989 freedom lovers would admire.