How is it that the European Union is struggling to stop its 'illiberal' democracies

How the E.U. does in its battle with Poland and Hungary is likely to decide the future of democratic institutions in Europe.


A conflict is raging at the core of European Union over accusations that its two right-wing governments are sabotaging democratic principles and giving inspiration to populist party leaders across Europe.

The E.U. is accusing Poland of threatening the whole 27-nation union by claiming that the laws of its own country take precedence over the shared European law. Poland was the very first state member to make this claim and E.U. leaders claim that the move could threaten the fundamentals of the bloc.

A record number of people in Poland protested on the streets to express their displeasure over a decision by the country's highest court, which said that judges could overrule some European Union laws and rulings. Many worry that this could be the first step towards "Polexit," or Poland's abandoning the bloc, just as Britain had done in "Brexit."

Polish prime minister is in heated E.U. discussion over the rule of law

OCT. 20, 202102:02

The E.U.'s conflict with Poland is long-running , and is similar to the one it's fighting with neighboring Hungary in relation to rules of the law as well as President Viktor Orban's efforts to put judges and courts under supervision of the strict administration.

Both countries claim they are acting only in the national interest against an elite political class that wants to control the member states.

Pro EU Demonstration In Krakow, Poland

Thousands of people took part in pro-E.U. demonstrations in Poland earlier in the month. NurPhoto via Getty Images

How the E.U. does in its war against these two countries looks like it will determine the future of democratic institutions in Europe. Beyond Poland and Hungary and right-wing parties across Europe are tapping into fears of the populace regarding the issue of immigration and the identity. The massive protests that took place on Oct. 10 in Poland occurred just days after that country's Constitutional Court ruled that Polish law was supreme in certain areas, which is a direct challenge of law of the E.U., which requires every member nation to recognize E.U. law as the supreme.

A heated session in the European Parliament on Tuesday saw both sides of the debate go toe-to-toe with stern warnings and words on both sides.

"This ruling puts into doubt the very foundations of the European Union. It's a direct challenge towards the unity and integrity of the European legal system," Ursula von der Leyen who is the head of the European Commission The E.U.'s executive body, told Parliament.

"This has serious consequences for the Polish people," she added. "Without independence of the courts, people have less protection and consequently their rights are at stake."

Judges in Poland have been sacked of the courts without reason she said, which is as part of the changes to the judiciary E.U. leaders have been complaining about for many years.

The commission is looking at a variety of retaliatory actions that could include contesting the Polish ruling that imposed financial sanctions in the amount of millions of euros and seeking the known as Article 7 process, which will eventually result in Poland be stripped of its E.U. decision.

Polish Premier Minister Mateusz Morawiecki then told the same audience to applause from Polish MPs: "The very foundations of the E.U. is the concept of democracy Therefore, we cannot be silent when our nation is targeted in a disproportionate and partial manner."

He accuses von der Leyen "blackmail" by threatening sanctions and said that there is no problem with an international court deciding on which legal areas it will ultimately be accountable for.

Even though Marawiecki claims that his party doesn't want Poland to quit in the E.U., these reassurances don't satisfy all.

"We know why they want to leave ... so that they can violate democratic rules with impunity," said Donald Tusk, a former Polish premier as well as a former head of the European Council who is now the head of Poland's major opposition political party, Civic Platform, speaking at an October. 10 demonstration in Warsaw.

The issue was added the agenda and is expected to be the main topic of a meeting between the leaders of the bloc's 27 member nations that will be held at Brussels between Thursday and Friday.

Polish nationalists' demonstration "Gdansk against rainbow aggression" in protest against LGBT+ "ideology" in Gdansk

Empowered Polish nationalists have been gathered to protest in a number of ways, including this one in Gdansk last year, to protest against LGBTQ+ "ideology. "Agencja Gazeta/Reuters file

The hard-line Polish leaders have close ties with Hungary's Orban who has spoken about his plans to create an "illiberal" Christian democracy incompatible with the liberal consensus that exists across many governments across the E.U.

Orban through a press release, has backed Poland in renouncing the rule of E.U. law, and said to the E.U. must recognize member state's "identity."

"It seems like the government doesn't want to even listen to representations, decisions, or opinions or decisions of that of European Union. It appears that the government is of the idea that if they don't, they'll be able to avoid public accountability," says Adam Bodnar who was removed as Poland's ombudsman in charge of citizen rights in July.

"It presents such a vision that, 'We are in favor of European integration, but we think it should just be economic -- we are not so interested in all the other aspects, such as political union and having respect for European values,'" Bodnar stated.

Poland is also in the crosshairs of Western nations as well as human rights organizations around the world of restricting the freedom of courts and media, as well as violating the rights of immigrants, women, as well as LGBTQ community members since Law and Justice party won the presidency in an alliance of right-wingers in the year 2015.

In the same year, Bodnar was appointed by the Polish Parliament as an ombudsman, the watchdog position that is designed to safeguard the rights and liberties of citizens. It was the Constitutional Court ordered that he be removed from his position in July, after Polish Presidency Andrzej Duda claimed that he had expressed "anti-Polish" views by warning in an interview regarding his "anti-democratic" trend in the country.