With the Hudson Institute's Kleptocracy Initiative, I looked at Poland's recent sprint toward authoritarianism and judicial chapter - and Washington's resounding silence:
At this point, there is little doubt remaining of PiS’s authoritarian leanings – even while Poland’s president vetoed some, though not all, of the most recent legislation targeting the country’s judiciary. But as with the Hungarian precedent, European bodies appear lethargic in response. As EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy's Vladimír Bartovic recently said, Hungary and Poland, had they remained outside the European Union’s confines, would likely not have been able to join the EU. And yet, Brussels seems once more ill-suited to dealing with the democratic backsliding of one of their own. (Washington’s silence on Poland’s back-sliding, especially following U.S. President Donald Trump’s trip to Warsaw, has likewise been deafening.)
But with Poland’s recent push to dismantle its independent judiciary, Brussels may finally be waking to the authoritarianism roiling Warsaw. With the European Commission having already issued multiple statements and recommendations pertaining to PiS’s assault on the country’s judiciary, European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans stepped forward this month to point toward the potential for escalation from Brussels. Noting that the current proposed legislation in Warsaw “would abolish any remaining judicial independence and put the judiciary under full political control of the government,” Timmermans said that a third rule-of-law recommendation would be forthcoming and that preparations for “infringement procedures for breach of EU law” has already begun. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Timmermans added that, “given the latest developments, we are coming very close to triggering Article 7” – an unprecedented move to revoke Poland’s voting rights.
Article 7’s trigger, at this point, remains far from certain, but its consideration points to the gravity with which Brussels is finally viewing Poland’s authoritarian transformation . While policy-makers in Washington would be well-served to extend their criticisms of Hungary northward to Poland, legislators in Brussels must drop whatever remaining glimmers of hope they hold about PiS’s authoritarianism somehow stalling. After all, as Timmermans said, “This is no matter only for the Polish people. What is happening in Poland affects the Union as a whole. All of us, every single Member State, every citizen of the Union.”