As Poland’s Populist Government Takes on the EU, Is It Fracturing at Home?

As Poland’s Populist Government Takes on the EU, Is It Fracturing at Home?
Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw, July 24, 2017 (AP photo by Alik Keplicz).

“There is a question mark over Poland’s European future today,” former Polish Prime Minister and current European Council President Donald Tusk said earlier this month in a remarkable statement for someone intimately connected with both Warsaw and Brussels.

His comments came as Poland’s conservative government, which regards Tusk as its archenemy, showed little sign of backing off its populist drive to overhaul the country, despite international pressure and vocal domestic opposition. Last month, tens of thousands of Poles took to the streets to protest deeply controversial reforms to the judiciary that critics say would have handed power over the system to the ruling Law and Justice party, known as PiS. Protesters had the support of the European Commission—and, it seemed, Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, who on July 24 vetoed two of the three proposed laws.

Despite Duda’s veto, days later the European Commission launched “infringement proceedings” against Poland over the judicial reforms’ possible breach of European Union law, which could theoretically lead to financial penalties imposed on Poland. The commission has already threatened to trigger the so-called “nuclear option”—Article 7 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which could lead to the suspension of Poland’s voting rights at the EU level—if the government keeps pursuing the reforms.

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