While the Polish government is portraying itself as a leader in the EU response to the war in Ukraine, problems with rule of law in the country still persist and should not be ignored, Stéphane Séjourné, leader of the liberal group in the European Parliament, told EURACTIV.
The Polish government has repeatedly violated principles of the rule of law and media freedom in recent years, triggering criticism from the European Commission, other EU governments, the European Parliament, and civil society organisations.
However, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki has appeared to play a key role in the forging a forceful and united European response to the Russian aggression.
On Saturday (26 February), Morawiecki travelled to Berlin to convince the German chancellor Olaf Scholz to back harsher sanctions against Russia – which Scholz did.
Defending rule of law standards despite the war
Nevertheless, this should not be taken as a reason for the EU to back down from its rule of law principles, Séjourné said.
“Abandoning our European priorities would be a pitfall in this Ukranian crisis,” he told EURACTIV, in an interview conducted at the European Summit of cities and regions.
“These principles are the control of the rule of law and the application of some minimal standards that the European Union requires for the EU accession, meaning the independence of the judicial system, journalistic independence and pluralism, and free elections.”
“These standards have to keep being defended in Europe despite the war,” he said.
Séjourné emphasised that the situation of the rule of law in Poland was still concerning.
“There still hasn’t been a reintegration of the judges and there still aren’t any guarantees that a new law will be implemented that would allow us to say that Poland had returned to some sort of normalcy in the independence of the judicial system,” he said.
“We have to stay very vigilant,” Séjourné asserted.
Since last year, it’s been possible for the EU to withhold funds to member states that are not complying with the principles of the rule of law. In mid-February, the European court of justice dismissed a challenge coming from the Polish and the Hungarian governments.
Even with this judgment in place, the process can take months due to its lengthy procedure. Meanwhile, critics accuse the European Commission of purposefully dragging its feet on the politically sensitive file.
Candidate status for Ukraine
Regarding the Ukrainian bid for EU accession, Séjourné remained cautious, even though the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s political party was granted affiliate status with the ALDE party that belongs to Séjourné’s liberal group.
“I support giving Ukraine the status of EU candidate,” he told EURACTIV, arguing that firm political support was essential at the moment.
“With the blood that was shed, I think we can consider that Ukraine is today already a part of our community of destiny concerning the democratic values,” Séjourné said.
He cautioned, however, that a candidate status would not quickly result in Ukraine’s accession to the EU, saying that there was a “rigorous procedure” that had to be followed.
The Ukrainian president, meanwhile, argues for a fast-track accession of Ukraine.
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald/Vlagyiszlav Makszimov]