How Poland’s Law and Justice Party is threatening democracy


After simmering for nine months, the tension between Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and the country’s highest court, the Constitutional Tribunal, is coming to a boil, says R. Daniel Kelemen, Professor of Political Science and Law at Rutgers University. The PiS government is attempting an unconstitutional takeover of the tribunal—ignoring its rulings, trying to pack it with new judges, and, most recently, threatening the head judge with prosecution. At stake are the survival of constitutional democracy and the rule of law in Poland.

Although the European Parliament has adopted resolutions criticizing developments in Hungary and Poland, most national leaders in the EU have remained silent about democratic backsliding, he writes for Foreign Affairs:

Often, Washington has been more critical than European capitals. Angela Merkel, who has played a powerful leadership role in so many other areas, has had little to say about attacks on constitutional democracy in Hungary and Poland. But if European governments want to condone blatant attacks on the rule of law in Poland, they should be forced to go on the record with a vote.

Even a vote that fails to secure the unanimity needed for sanctions could be a galvanizing event, helping Europe’s democratic leaders remember what they and their union stand for. In the wake of such a vote, the EPP might finally eject and denounce Fidesz, a party that has not only undermined pluralist democracy but has eagerly stoked xenophobia. Talk among members of the European Parliament of cutting off EU funding to countries that flout European values is increasing, and even the failure of a vote against the Polish government might finally push leaders to get serious about using the power of the purse to deny autocrats the EU funds they use to prop up their regimes.


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