Whether anyone voted for or against Brexit, there is growing dissatisfaction with the way Brussels is handling the day-to-day affairs of the European Union and this public sentiment is spreading more and more beyond the European Union. British electorate. Could Poland launch the next wild card to become the second country to “exit the EU” sooner than expected?
There are many questions for today’s Opinion Page contribution. In a nutshell: can the EU as we know it survive the next decade as a club of 27 or ask: would Turkey be accepted as a full member state in the years to come? ? Could today’s EU be saved?
Does Community law prevail over national law?
Of course he does. One of the downsides of joining the European Union or its predecessor, the European Communities, was swallowing the bitter pill of accepting that the body of European law is now your guiding principle and that if ever there is a conflict were to arise, EU law would replace national law. National laws would not cease; they are simply aligned with what is commonly called the Acquis Communautaire.
Let me give you a few examples to illustrate the related ease as well as the inherent complications. Think about the age at the end of compulsory schooling. While it is assumed that 16 is the norm when a young person can legally end his studies and start an apprenticeship or learn a profession (in some countries, coupled with two additional years of vocational education every two weeks) if an EU member state decides that this age should be 15 or 17, no European institution would sue that EU government. Reason: technically speaking, Brussels does not have final jurisdiction in matters of education.
Now consider access to the labor market. By definition, EU nationals are free to seek employment in another EU country and even to stay there legally without a job or university enrollment. If an EU member state announces that jobs in the country are exclusively reserved for nationals of that same country, it is violating EU law. Exception: public service (government) positions and a rather limited list of other professions that require a thorough knowledge of the operations and language of the host country.
The latter issue has become a focal point for Brexiteers who have argued that EU citizens are “stealing” job opportunities from British job seekers.
In the current case of Poland, we are approaching a whole new level. There is no particular subject which irritates the Polish government and apparently many Polish voters. At the heart of the matter is a vote by the Polish Constitutional Court dated October 7, 2021, claiming that parts of EU law are unconstitutional when assessed by the standards of Polish national law.
No legal frills so to speak – what Warsaw claims is that Polish national law supersedes EU law, at least to some extent. This is in contradiction with Poland’s accession to the EU and the accession document that the government signed in the past.
More than just a technocratic battle
Shrugging would be the worst reaction Brussels could show. In fact, the alarm bells are ringing louder and louder, including in relation to the fateful year of 2016 and former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s referendum on the EU.
One way or another, Britain has always been different from other members of the EU, has always been distant or, shall we say, removed from an ever closer political union. Brexit was about when, not if.
But the threat to the federalist dream of enlarging the EU eastward and south-east, including the Balkans, is taken very seriously. A country on the eastern flanks of the bloc is considering giving up or at least creating a lot of internal problems that could lead other disgruntled member states to turn into “exit” imitators, this is what really worries the Brussels elites and many European capitals.
Warsaw’s decision to reform its judicial and judicial system was seen by Brussels as a violation of EU legal standards. This is how the current heated exchange of opinions broke out between the two parties. But it would be shortsighted to claim that there are no other underlying issues.
Poland has a conservative government, which is partly very nationalist. It seems that his supporters in the population agree with the criticisms leveled against Brussels. Therefore, we must be careful not to confuse possibly justified legal considerations and how to find a solution between Warsaw and Brussels, with pure right-wing populist sentiments which benefit this debate.
Because the real threat to the EU of the (yet) 27 are not discussions between legal teams, the danger zone begins when the right-wing populists who want in any case to restore national sovereignty and lift the mental drawbridges recreating a scenario of one race, one nation take precedence over politics.
Would the Polish government really prefer to go its own way? I’m not so sure. Should he give in so easily to an extreme right-wing electoral clientele? Certainly not if it shows character and explains the benefits of living in a community in which the rule of law is paramount to somewhat skeptical or perhaps uninformed voters. Moreover, is the Polish economy strong enough to lead an independent Poland to success in all markets, including financial ones?
The Turkish dimension
There are three possibilities. First of all, “Polexit” really does happen. In this case, it is very likely that even die-hard federalists will step back and reassess the enlargement situation. Instead of inviting new Member States to replace Poland in one way or another, it is assumed that no new Member States would be allowed at least in a medium term perspective. This unfortunately includes Turkey.
Second, Polexit is avoided. Either way, Warsaw accepts that receiving large amounts of EU funds is some kind of compromise when it comes to tolerating EU law replacing national law, except in very few clearly defined exceptions. Would the EU automatically open the Ankara gate? Unfortunately, the answer is once again ‘no’. Brussels would go on and play the wait-and-see game to find out if there are other internal troublemakers before it gets bigger.
Yet third, Turkey is playing its own cards smartly, so to speak, and saying to Brussels, look, whatever scenario A or B you need us. In this case, a strong, influential and geopolitically advantageous nation joins after the departure of another country. The void and more are filled in an instant. It would be highly likely that Poland would then reconsider its opt-out and join if it is readmitted!
In the latter case, Turkey will be an equal game changer. With such a successful diplomatic service and all the other perks that modern Turkey, soon to be celebrating its centenary in 2023, brings with it other countries would think twice before considering their “exit.” Why leave when a success story like Turkey has just decided to join.
The EU is heading for a new momentum. The unthinkable before (Brexit et al.) Has become reality. It would therefore be desirable and very welcome for Brussels to finally take Turkey at face value and seal a full membership. Turkey was and is ready – what about the EU?