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20 December 2017

The EU’s punishment of Poland sets a challenge for Theresa May

Will the Brexit PM continue to turn a blind eye to Poland’s increasing authoritarianism?

By Stephen Bush

The European Union will begin the process of formally punishing Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) administration for its wide-ranging reforms to judicial appointments and oversight today, with a motion tabled to sanction the Polish government using Article 7.

The plans, which PiS argues would “democratise” the process of judicial appointments, are widely seen as eroding judicial independence.

The difficult truth for the EU is that its power to effectively punish the Polish government is limited, as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán has vowed to block any attempt to strip Warsaw of its voting rights. It may just hand Jarosław Kaczyński, the party’s leader, and Mateusz Morawiecki, the current Prime Minister, a political victory domestically.

It places Theresa May in a difficult position, too. Since Brexit, her policy has been to hug the PiS government close and to turn a blind eye to its increasing authoritarianism. Now she is under pressure to say something about the row when she visits Warsaw on Thursday. It speaks to the big and undiscussed dilemma for the United Kingdom after Brexit: is the UK to be the authoritarian’s friend, rocking up everywhere and anywhere there is an advantage to be extracted as far as that trade deal or that economic relationship, or is it going to at least try to chart a more ethical course? So far, the answer under May seems to be in one direction.

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