Today, we all have a single goal, economic recovery of Europe, and we should respond as a united Europe. But the proposed rule of law conditionality circumvents the EU Treaty, sets a dangerous precedent and threatens all member states and the future of the entire Union, writes Mateusz Morawiecki.
Mateusz Morawiecki is the prime minister of Poland. This opinion piece is published first on EURACTIV.
A crisis like this can happen once every hundred years. The scale of losses caused by the coronavirus epidemic is yet to be revealed. However, we already see people’s experiencing many difficulties, affected sectors of the economy, and families in despair at the loss of loved ones.
Even though the vaccine is on the horizon, our problems will not be over anytime soon. Europeans are yet to see the awaited ray of hope. And whether Europeans will be able to regain their faith in the future depends on the European Union, on its strength, on common effort and on the efficiency of the member states.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest crisis since World War II. For the first time, we have the opportunity to respond to the challenge together, as an independent and, after 1989, united Europe. This is a great chance.
At the same time there is a big question mark: Can we handle the historical weight of this attempt? I believe historians will describe this moment as a time of great test for Europe.
Yet in this decisive moment, which calls for mutual solidarity, a spirit of division has awakened in Europe, as if the tremendous effort of the Recovery Fund was to be wiped out by what has always been our continent’s weakness: the tendency to argue and seek what divides us.
The way rule of law conditionality is to be included in the resolution not only raises serious doubts in legal terms of the mechanism but also undermines the principles of trust and loyal cooperation between member states and Union institutions.
Current actions which circumvent the Treaties lead to a state of great legal uncertainty. Is this what we want to offer our citizens in response to the dramatic situation in which they found themselves due to the pandemic? Uncertainty and political disputes?
A serious problem and paradox of the modern EU is the fact that, despite constant emphasis on the importance of diversity, it cannot accept the diversity of legal and constitutional systems rooted in the traditions of different countries.
The community composes of different models of democracy because European nations differ from one another. The French Fifth Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany are not alike. It is natural, as one was established from the will of the French people, while the other from the will of the German people.
Italians or Poles, the Portuguese or the Czech – all have the right to be different. The EU should strive towards solidarity in diversity, as only then its unity will be constructive and beneficial. Diversity is, after all, a European treasure, not a curse.
We demand equality and respect for the Treaties. The EU cannot subvert its own rules, nor change them at the political demand of some member states. The regulation on the protection of budgetary interests of the EU is secondary to the Treaty on European Union, and so it cannot circumvent, replace or modify the rules set forth in that Treaty.
The rule of law conditionality mechanism in the Regulation is a circumvention, in a way it “overwrites” the law over the Treaty, and more specifically the Art. 7 TEU. This has to be said clearly – a mechanism designed to protect the member states’ compliance with the rule of law itself circumvents EU law and therefore threatens the rule of law.
The EU frequently sees disputes and differences of opinion, but we also have mechanisms which lead to agreement. I strongly believe that we are capable of working out a solution that respects the letter and the spirit of the Treaties.
Or perhaps this is a game played by certain “actors” who do not want the Recovery Fund to actually start functioning. Perhaps they do not want to contribute to the common budget, taking advantage of the common European market the most?
Today, we all have a single goal, and that goal – economic recovery of Europe – must be our guide.
The mechanism in its current form leads to dangerous interpretations. It gives great power and discretion to entities without democratic legitimacy, or to entities with a significant “democratic deficit” compared to national parliaments.
This gravely threatens all member states and the future of the entire Union. Those who think that they are immune, fail to realise the extent of arbitrariness the mechanism.
After all, it is not that difficult to imagine a political power in the EU not being a fan of a constitutional or economic reform introduced in a specific member state. It will suffice to claim in the media and in the EU Parliament how this reform violates the rule of law and to open the path to cut the funds. Is this really what we want? To enable such arbitrariness? Create such centrifugal forces that this regulation would cause?
Such a solution gives unprecedented opportunities to exert political pressure on the course of affairs in the domestic politics of the member states. To emphasize: domestic politics.
Today, this arbitrary, politically motivated mechanism is targeted against Poland, but how can we be sure that it will not be targeted against another member state unwilling to conform to the political will of Brussels institutions? Treaties respect and protect sovereignty, while the new mechanism violates and severely limits it.
Disapproval of this state of affairs, i.e. veto, does not weaken the EU. Veto is a mechanism embedded in the reality of EU structures, consistent with the spirit of the Community and its democratic nature. It is a safety valve necessary for the Union to exist at all.
It is a way to protect the compromise and a barrier against the imposition of will by those who are stronger at the given moment. It is a confirmation of the fact that the vote of every member state carries equal weight.
Charles de Gaulle once said that “a man sacrifices the future to the present simply by being unable to say ‘no’”. Poland feels responsible for the future of Europe. Thus our “no” for the mechanism proposed today is at the same time a “yes” to a Europe truly united in diversity, free, equal and solidary.