The Rule of Law Is Under Assault Across Europe. Can the EU Save It?

The Rule of Law Is Under Assault Across Europe. Can the EU Save It?
Hundreds of demonstrators hold candles to protest against proposed changes to Poland’s justice system, in Warsaw, Poland, Aug. 3, 2018 (AP photo by Czarek Sokolowski).

The European Commission announced new legal measures last month aimed at curbing the erosion of judicial independence and the rule of law in member states. While several Central and Eastern European governments have sought to exert political influence over their judiciaries, the European Union’s latest actions were primarily directed at Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, known by its Polish acronym PiS, which has intervened in the country’s justice system since winning an outright majority in parliament in 2015. In an email interview with WPR, Artur Wolek, the public policy and administration professor at the Jesuit University Ignatianum in Krakow and a former adviser to the Polish government, discusses the roots of the struggle over judicial independence in Europe and its implications for the EU.

World Politics Review: Why has the EU been stepping up its legal actions against Poland, and what are their concrete impacts?

Artur Wolek: The EU’s previous experience with legal actions against encroachments on the rule of law, in Hungary, achieved mixed results at best. While Prime Minister Viktor Orban used salami tactics to gradually undermine Hungary’s system of democratic checks and balances, the EU was indecisive and slow to act. With that lesson in mind, European politicians and officials have acted more vigorously when faced with Poland’s recent actions, which in many ways are an accelerated version of Orban’s excesses.

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