Senate Speaker’s DIY foreign policy

Tomasz Grodzki is being accused of trying to conduct foreign policy separate to that of the Polish government and President. He met with EC’s VP Vera Jourova to discuss legislation going through the Polish Parliament.

Senator Tomasz Grodzki, the Speaker to the Senate elected with the votes of opposition Senators (the opposition currently enjoys a narrow majority in Poland’s second chamber), met with the VP of the EC Vera Jourova in Brussels. The meeting took place after Ms Jourova wrote a letter to the Polish President, PM and the speakers of both chambers of the Polish Parliament to express the EC’s concern over legislation on disciplinary procedures for judges.

Speaking to reporters after Wednesday’s meeting at the EC in Brussels Tomasz Grodzki said it had been a working meeting to discuss what could be done with legislation of disciplinary procedures for judges which has cleared the Lower House and will now be debated in the Senate. It is highly unusual for the EC to involve itself in this way in an on-going legislative process of a member state.

Speaker Grodzki is being criticized by the Polish government and the ruling party for attempting to conduct a separate foreign policy. Foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz expressed his irritation with Prof. Grodzki by saying that the Speaker had as an after-thought attempted to hold a phone conversation just before setting off for Brussels. The minister speaking on Public Radio 3 said that “I would have expected Senator Grodzki to have consulted with the Foreign Affairs Ministry before he schedule a meeting with Vera Jourova because such meetings with the executive branch of the EU (the EC) are the domain of the government.”

The Senate Speaker has also been criticized for having met Russia’s ambassador before Christmas and for having schedule other meetings with ambassadors. Senator Grodzki has hit back arguing that his office demands that he maintains contact with legislatures in other countries.

Comment:

The tensions between the government and the opposition on foreign policy has now affected the way Poland is represented abroad. The Senate Speaker is wading into Poland’s sensitive relations within the EU, much to the irritation of the government.

Polish history of the 18th century should be a warning against different centres of power pursuing their own foreign policies. That was a part of the reason why Poland fell apart and was partitioned back then.

The Polish government had hoped that the new EC would adopt the strategy proposed by its President Ursula von der Leyen who said that the EC should develop and agree with the European Council a mechanism for monitoring rule of law policies in all countries so that no one feels they are being singled out while others escape scrutiny.

But it looks as if Ms Jourova could not resist the opportunity of establishing herself in her new job of VP by becoming involved in the long-running dispute between Poland and the EC over Poland’s judicial reforms. As there is now disagreement between the two chambers of the Polish Parliament over the legislation on disciplining judges the EC is testing how it could insert some influence on the process.

The Polish opposition in turn has long since argued that it would oppose the present government and its judicial reforms “on the streets (demonstrations-Ed.) and abroad” (meaning the EU and other international fora). No surprise therefore that it jumped at the chance of its Senate Speaker meeting Ms Jourova in Brussels.

This is how the EU looks in its post-Lisbon Treaty shape. Member states can expect increasing interest in their internal affairs from the EC. The Lisbon Treaty had brought in the ability of member states to leave the EU (Article 50 being used by the UK), a way of disciplining member states over violations of basic principles (Article 7 being used against Poland and Hungary) and, even more importantly, qualified majority voting that allows coalitions to form to vote through key changes in a wide variety of policy areas against the wishes of some EU states.

Poland back in the noughties was a reluctant signatory to the Lisbon Treaty. It backed down to pressure from virtually all the other members of the EU to agree the new treaty. But it’s worse fears about what it would mean for member state sovereignty are being realised.

It may or may not be a coincidence that ever since the Treaty came into being we have had one EU crisis after another: the Euro, migration, Brexit while progress on enlargement and the development of the single market has stalled. The days of grand expansionary projects such as enlargement, the Euro and Schengen that drove the EU forwards are for the time being over as the EU deals with its own entrails.


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