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Poland - European Union Membership

Poland joined the EU in 2004, but long-held differences have put Warsaw and Brussels on a collision course a result of the ruling Law and Justice party [PiS] surging ahead with an ever-widening conservative reform agenda. The Polish government never tired of complaining about the EU while at the same time holding out its hands to take massive amounts of EU aid money. The leader of the PiS, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, apparently wanted to set an example and push his nationalist resistance to the supposed dictate of Brussels to the breaking point.

Led by the populist Law and Justice Party (PiS), the Polish government pushed widespread reforms it said were needed to fight corruption but critics said expand government powers and defy the democratic values upheld by EU law. Poland's abortion rights were overturned with a near-ban introduced in January, despite months of violent street protests, while LGBTQ groups and the freedom of speech of everyday citizens have also come under attack.

But differences between Warsaw and Brussels deepened 14 July 2021 taking a more hostile turn as Poland’s Constitutional Court defied a ruling by the European Union Court of Justice against Poland’s controversial judicial reforms. Poland’s Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court, said the decision was “not in line” with the constitution. The rift over the legitimacy of EU law first emerged in February 2020 when Poland passed new measures to prevent judges from referring cases to the European Court of Justice. Poland maintains that on domestic affairs to do with its judiciary and courts it is up to Polish authorities and legislation, and not Brussels, to decide.

Poland's constitutional court ruled Polish law supersedes EU law when there is a conflict between the two. The European Court of Justice on 26 October 2021 fined Poland €1 million per day for ignoring an EU ruling that called for the country's Supreme Court disciplinary chamber to be suspended. The ECJ said in a press release the fine was "necessary in order to avoid serious and irreparable harm to the legal order of the European Union and to the values on which that Union is founded, in particular that of the rule of law." The European Commission had requested "financial penalties" be levied on September 9 after Poland failed to comply with the July ruling. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the European Parliament the disciplinary chamber will be abolished, but he gave no timeline for when that would occur and no draft law has been introduced.

The European Commission launched unprecedented disciplinary proceedings against Poland on 20 December 2017 over its highly controversial judicial reforms which Brussels says threaten the rule of law. "It is with a heavy heart that we have decided to initiate Article 7.1. But the facts leave us with no choice," Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans told reporters in Brussels. The commission, the EU's executive arm, is activating article seven of the bloc's treaty, a never-before-used disciplinary procedure that could ultimately lead to Poland losing its voting rights in the EU.

Poland's right-wing government began making changes to the judiciary after coming to power in late 2015 and says the reforms are needed to combat corruption and overhaul the judicial system still haunted by the communist era. Timmermans said that 13 laws adopted by Poland in the space of two years had created a situation where the government "can systematically politically interfere with the composition, powers, the administration and the functioning" of judicial authorities. Timmermans also accused Warsaw of ignoring three warnings by the EU executive that its judicial measures were undermining the rule of law. "At the end of the day it is only the law that can protect us against naked political power, at the end of the day it is the law that keeps the European Union together," he said.

The European Commission also warned Poland that it was putting its membership in the European Single Market at risk, pointing out that the shared market can only work in countries that abide by the rule of law. That would hit average Poles quite hard, both in the pocketbook and in terms of the freedom of establishment.

A full EU member since 2004, Poland embraced its membership and has taken full advantage of the benefits of being a part of the EU. In December 1991, Poland signed a “Europe Agreement” with the European Community, now the European Union, or the EU, establishing a trade and political association between Poland and the EU. The Europe Agreement became fully effective in 1994, and on April 8, 1994, Poland submitted a formal application for full EU membership. Poland became an associate member of the EU and its defensive arm, the Western European Union, in 1994.

The accession negotiations between Poland and the EU lasted for more than four years, having been officially launched on March 31, 1998 and finalized at the Copenhagen summit on December 13, 2002. In accordance with the timetable drawn up at the Copenhagen summit in December 2002, Poland and nine other candidate countries signed the Accession Treaty with the European Union, or the Accession Treaty, on April 16, 2003 in Athens. The Accession Treaty was ratified by all EU members and candidate countries and came into force on May 1, 2004.

For the purpose of European elections, Poland is subdivided into constituencies, in the same way as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, France and Belgium. Unlike those countries, the number of seats in each subconstituency is not decided until after the election. Poland therefore is sometimes treated as a single constituency for reporting purposes. After the European Parliamentary elections of 2009, Poland had 50 members of the European Parliament. As in the Polish Parliament, the Civic Platform and the Law and Justice party will hold a substantial portion of the Polish seats in the European Parliament, 25 seats and 15 seats respectively.

As membership in the European Economic and Monetary Union and the adoption of the single currency are both required by the Accession Treaty and have been set as objectives of the Polish government, Poland is continuing a dialogue with the EU on these matters. As a member state, Poland is subject to multilateral surveillance by the EU’s Council. Poland is obliged to prepare an annual Convergence Program covering fiscal policy, Poland’s main assumptions underlying its economic outlook and an assessment of economic policy measures and their budgetary impact. This information must cover the current and previous year and include forecasts for at least the next three years.

One of the most important issues for the first years of Poland’s membership of the EU has been to implement effectively projects financed by the EU in accordance with the Accession Treaty. This is in line with the principle of European solidarity, which aims to help less developed EU countries bridge the gap in their economic and social development vis-a-vis the more affluent member states.

Polish membership in the European Union resulted in a major inflow of EU funds and between May 2004 and April 2009, the inflow of EU resources into Poland was approximately €31 billion (mostly from structural funds and payments under the Common Agricultural Policy). Conversely, Poland only made approximately €13.9 billion of “Own Resources” payments to the EU. The net inflow of EU resources is projected to rise in 2009 and in subsequent years mainly because of the progress in implementation of the operational programs of the EU’s Cohesion Policy between 2007 and 2013. EU funds are expected to provide additional support for the Polish economy.

On 28 January 2009, the first round of international consultations on creating the French-German-Polish (named Weimar) Battle Group of the European was held at the Polish General Staff in Warsaw. Poland is engaged, as a framework nation, in creating two EU Battle Groups. What is more, forming another Battle Group including Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Ukraine is being taken into consideration. Chiefs of the military delegations of France, Germany and Poland confirmed that the Weimar Battle Group with Poland as a framework nation will be ready to act in the first decade of 2013.

Brig. Gen. Wojtan from the Polish General Staff also confirmed that Poland would provide the command of this Battle Group, that is a mechanized battalion based on AMV Rosomak and support subunits, which would amount to more than 50% of the whole force. During the meeting, the agenda of further meetings and consultations was set. Vice admiral Eric CHAPLET (France), Brig. Gen. Hans Werner WIERMANN (Germany) and Brig. Gen. Anatol WOJTAN (Poland) chaired these consultations.

Possessing effective units, capable of acting in autonomous way, is the prime condition of increasing EU capabilities in carrying out crisis response operations. EU Battle Groups, created by member countries and kept in operational readiness for 6-month-long duty, are formed with the view to fulfilling this task. The main goals of these Battle Groups are as follows: separating conflict sides, conflict prevention, supporting evacuation and humanitarian missions. As a result of the EU Council decision, in a crisis situation the Battle Group should start the mission within 10 days.

The European Commission said 13 January 2016y it was starting a probe into whether controversial laws pushed through by Poland's new Law and Justice (PiS) government violate EU standards. The move by the European Union, which surprised many observers, followed a slew of international criticism over changes to the judiciary and media in Poland. The first use of the EU executive's new Rule of Law Framework could in principle eventually lead to sanctions such as the suspension of Poland's voting rights.

The Rule of Law is one of the fundamental values upon which the European Union is founded. The Commission, beyond its task to ensure the respect of EU law, is also responsible, together with the European Parliament, the Member States and the Council, for guaranteeing the fundamental values of the Union. Recent events in Poland had given rise to concerns regarding the respect of the rule of law. The Commission had therefore requested information on the situation concerning the Constitutional Tribunal and on the changes in the law on the Public Service Broadcasters.

The European Union launched an infringement procedure against Poland over reforms the country made to its judiciary, which the EU fears will affect the impartiality of Poland’s courts. EU commissioners decided to start the legal action 26 July 2017, with the main concern that the justice minister now can extend the mandates of judges, and dismiss and appoint court presidents. "The new rules allow the minister of justice to exert influence on individual ordinary judges through, in particular, the vague criteria for the prolongation of their mandates thereby undermining the principle of irremovability of judges," the European Commission said in a statement.

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Page last modified: 06-12-2021 10:05:09 ZULU