The European Union has been through a rough couple of years, it has had to deal with the Eurozone debt crisis, the Ukraine crisis and recently the UK’s decision to leave the Union. But the EU has also had to deal with the issue of democracy in an increasing number of its member states, such as Poland. In the 2015 Parliamentary elections the Law and Justice party – a nationalist, conservative and slightly Eurosceptic, won a majority in the Polish legislature. It is important to note that this is the first in Polish political history that a single party held majority power, ever since the country restored democracy in 1989.
Since the right-wing government came into power, the European Union has argued that the government has pursued anti-democratic and unconstitutional policies. The majority of the constitutional court is a majority of the members of the constitutional court. appointing five judges; replacing the management of Poland’s public television and appointing a former law and justice member of parliament as the new television boss, has been viewed by the European Union as Poland breaking one of the major criteria of being a member of the Union – the rule of law . Any member who breaks any of the Union’s values, such as the rule of law, may be stripped of its voting rights, in accordance with Article 7 of the Treaty of Lisbon.
However, there is an issue, this is the first time the US has ever triggered Article 7 and is commonly referred to as the ‘nuclear option’. The issue with the Article is that 4/5 of all members should approve it’s triggered and if the member state refuses to make any changes, EU members vote unanimously on whether to impose sanctions and suspends the nation’s voting rights. This is a very high bar to reach, and other nations in the EU such as Hungary will likely vote in favor of Poland since the nation has also pursed similarly anti-democratic policies. Therefore, despite Poland’s recent legislative agenda threatening the checks and balances of the different branches of government, it may still be able to remain an EU member. If so, that begs the question on what powers of the EU and its institutions have? Can you be a member of the European Union and become a member of the European Union? It does sound ridiculous; the truth of the matter is that the EU does not give much power to European institutions to stop undemocratic legislation or make it easy for the Commission to boot out member states.
It also does not help that the EU may allow an increasingly undemocratic and authoritarian state to join the Union, Turkey has been using the refugee crisis as a bargaining chip, to speed up EU accession negotiations. The Turkish government has agreed to readmit thousands of migrants and refugees who have passed through Greece and onto Germany. Not only does Turkey want to speed up the process to join the Union, it has also demanded visa-free travel to Turkish citizens. If the European Union wants to maintain its credibility and trust of its citizens, it should not negotiate away democracy. Democracy must remain a foundation or pillar of the Union and it can not be sold away.