European Union

  • Source: "Poland sacks a third of its Supreme Court"  

    From the article: "Judges are a pampered caste of crooks, according to Poland’s governing Law and Justice party (PiS). On July 3rd its new law on the Supreme Court took effect, the culmination of a series of judicial changes pushed through by the party. The European Union has urged the government to back down, warning that it is undermining the rule of law. Poland represents a vital battle for Brussels. If the EU cannot defend its fundamental values, including the rule of law, within its own borders, other illiberal leaders will surely take note. The latest judicial reform lowers the retirement age from 70 to 65 for judges on the Supreme Court, which, among other responsibilities, rules on the validity of elections. As the law took effect on July 3rd, more than a third of its 72 judges were forced to step down.

    The EU has failed to stop the Court purge. In December, citing “a clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law” in Poland, the European Commission triggered action under Article 7 of the EU treaty, which could eventually result in the country’s voting rights being suspended. The chance of that happening is remote, however, because such a decision would require a unanimous vote by the other EU governments, and Hungary, for one, has vowed to stop it. Without the required support of four-fifths of the EU’s countries even to get to an earlier stage of condemnation, the procedure has reached an impasse. In a last-minute effort, the commission on July 2nd launched a separate infringement procedure against Poland for violating EU law with its changes to the Supreme Court. The Polish government now has a month to respond. After that, Poland could face a case before the EU Court of Justice, which can impose large fines but which cannot strip Poland of its voting rights."

    Poland is an example of how illiberal groups consolidate their power in a democratic state, by weakening institutions that check and balance political power. And Poland is also an example of the core weaknesses built into the European Union, which is powerless to stop PiS from gutting the Court.

     

  • Source: "Transatlantic rift"  

     The alliance between the US and Europe helped created NATO and the European Union. After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, this alliance promoted the creation and secured the existence of democracy in eastern Europe. The current tensions: Trump accuses the EU of engaging in unfair trade practices and threatens tariffs. Trump wants all European nations to live up to their NATO defense spending pledges (2% of GDP - Germany now at 1.22% and Italy at 1.13%). Europe supports the Iran deal (they helped create it) - Trump does not. Europe supports the Paris climate accords - Trump does not. The rise of authoritarian illiberalism in Hungary, Poland and Turkey is troubling to Europe - Trump encourages and embraces these autocrats. And now Italy has a new populist coalition in charge of its government that is pro-Putin.

    Solutions - NATO needs to sharpen its response to cyberwarfare and misinformation so beloved as tactics by Putin’s Russia. Yes, European military spending must increase and should focus on R&D and yes, NATO and the EU can take on a new role to help combat the spread of illiberal authoritarianism.

    In the "What If?" section of the July 7, 2018 issue, there is an article that looks at what will happen if Europe's divides, driven by the rise of illiberalism and anti-migration nationalism, continue. Here, the assumption is that the recent purging of Poland's courts by the ruling PiS party, results in the EU Courts of Justice declaring Polish court decisions illegitimate. The EU needs unanimity to remove voting rights from a member state. Its easier to discipline a state through the EU budget. Illiberal countries like Hungary are net recipients of EU funds (Hungary gets the equivalent of 6% of its GDP from the EU). Shutting off the funds however, makes exit from the EU on the part of these nations more likely. In the case of a country like Italy, the prediction is that to remain in power, the populists will boost government spending and cut taxes so that Italy exceeds the 3% of GDP budget deficit limit imposed by the EU.   

    And again, from the "What If" section of the July 7, 2018 issue, another article - this one hypothesizes growing Chinese power in the years ahead as a direct result of the Trump-led weakening of the West. As the Trump-led trade disputes weaken the World Trade Organization, then a vacuum is created and perhaps China could start their own trade court. From the article: "An obscure Chinese arbitration panel, originally created to hear disputes linked to the Belt and Road Initiative, was rebranded in 2022 as the Global Infrastructure Tribunal. With its first cases this embryonic trade court has offered glimpses of how a Chinese-led commercial order might work. Unlike the WTO, it draws no distinction between nations with state-directed and market economies. Its judges take a benign view of subsidies that claim to support national development. And though they talk a good game about intellectual-property protection, they have consistently taken the view that sovereign governments, rather than individual businesses, should have final say in patent disputes." China could also create an alternative system for international payments in Chinese yuan, euros and Russian roubles, aimed at the Eurasian countries that form the backbone of the Belt and Road Initiative. Suh a system would be immune to dollar-based economic sanctions from the United States.