Nicholas Richardson
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Sovereignty

“True republicanism is the sovereignty of the people. There are natural an imprescriptible rights which an entire nation has no right to violate.” The words of the Marquis de Lafayette. And the question in the Polish parliament on Friday was whether the country’s sovereignty has indeed been violated, not so much by the entire nation but by external influences, notably from Brussels.

The resolution adopted by PiS with support of the Kukiz’15 deputies, calls on the government to “defy all actions infringing” Poland’s sovereignty. “In line with the Constitution, the Republic of Poland is a sovereign, democratic state under the rule of law,” the resolution states. “The country has recently faced threats to its autonomy, which undermine the rules of democracy, law and social peace.” And, for good measure, the resolution also criticised targeted the EU’s “attempts to impose on Poland decisions on migrants arriving in Europe. These decisions have no basis in European law and go against the sovereignty of [the Polish] nation and European values.”

The vote on the resolution, which followed a fierce debate in Parliament, was largely ignored by the opposition, with Civic Platform MP Rafał Trzaskowski describing the resolution as “a show of incredible weakness”. “Can you imagine any Parliament, say, in Britain, Germany or France, resorting to such a resolution?” he asked. “Sovereignty is a matter of action not words.”

The timing of the resolution was no accident as it came three days before the EU Commission deadline for Poland to resolve the crisis at the Constitutional Tribunal. The EU has warned Poland that if nothing is done, it would release an opinion on the status of the rule of law in Poland, following the investigation it launched in January when changes were adopted to the workings of the Constitutional Tribunal, which changes the Tribunal subsequently ruled were unconstitutional.

Needless to say, yesterday’s deadline came and went and no such opinion was released. Instead, the EU Commission denied that any ultimatum had been issued to Poland and announced that “constructive” discussions were continuing to find a way out if the stalemate. To this end, European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans will today hold talks in Warsaw with Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło.

The resolution missed the obvious point that any nation with the will to be so, control of its own currency and, ideally, its own armed forces, is sovereign and may assert its sovereignty at any time. Its freedom to act in certain areas may be constrained by treaty commitments, but even these may, as a practical matter, be abrogated at any time subject to the consequences of so doing.

Why folk appear increasingly to have difficulties with the EU is that under its treaties the freedom to act is forever being constrained, while the demands and interference of the EU in the minutiae of life seems never ending. It is an imperfect analogy, but while a normal treaty is like a standing order, the EU treaties are like direct debits. Under the former I agree to pay to X Y amount every month; under the latter X takes whatever it thinks is due each month and I have less control. Indeed, in this analogy, the arrangement has expanded from banking to take over my daily life, and I can’t call X to talk about it, because he is not accountable to me. Apparently, in the small print, I committed to X supplying all my needs and I can’t use any other supplier. In extremis I may cancel the arrangement, but X will send his bullies round to make me think again.

Be that as it may, the Polish government’s assertion of sovereignty, albeit it as a way of distracting attention from the real point at issue in its struggle with the Constitutional Tribunal, does remain popular, if the polls are to be believed. According to a survey by TNS Polska Institute, if there were an election this month the ruling Law and Justice party would receive 39 per cent of the vote, 1.5 per cent more than it actually received in the general election last October. Civic Platform would receive 17 per cent, Nowoczesna 11 per cent and Kukiz’15 7 per cent. President Duda’s support is also up to 60 per cent from the 51.55 he actually received in the second round of the presidential elections last year.

But we should always remember the words of Saint Augustine: “In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery.”

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