The EU's rule of law crisis with Poland is now not so much an issue of East vs West, but West vs West—with Angela Merkel directly squaring off against her Northern European allies over how to resolve the stand-off—& a weak European Commission President caught in the middle 1/
In the run up to last week’s EUCO, it wasn't even clear whether the issue would feature on the leader’s agenda. @eucopresident proposed a 10-min slot to allow @MorawieckiM @vonderleyen & @MinPres to intervene - something I understand the Chancellery pushed hard to kill 2/
As it happens, Poland/RoL is so controversial every leader intervened. The Polish threat is essentially: ‘Give us money without conditions so we can peacefully build an autocracy within the EU or we will wreck your Union’. Morawiecki’s intervention at EP was particularly shocking
Many EU leaders thus pushed @EU_Commission to withhold EU Recovery €bn until Warsaw has introduced judicial reforms @vonderleyen outlined at @Europarl_EN. As one senior official from N Europe tells me: “We were very happy with both the length & intensity of [EUCO] debate” 4/
But N Europe now finds itself lined up against a formidable opponent - Merkel - who is leaning VERY hard on @EU_Commission to sort this BEFORE she leaves office in Dec. As one senior EU official says: “Merkel does not want to leave the Union divided. This is about her legacy.” 5/
Rightly/wrongly, Merkel remains v worried about an existential East-West rift at heart of EU that paralyses the Union & creates “second-tier status” for Pol & Hu compared to other member states (those who get €bn vs those who don't). Many think her background is instructive 6/
But N Europe feels just as strong. So any move towards a fudge—disbursing €bn to Pol BEFORE Warsaw has taken concrete steps to address EU’s RoL concerns would kill Commission’s credibility on both RoL AND implementation of Recovery Fund. “An East-West split goes both ways” 7/
Says a N EU source. “We don’t want to be chased away either.”
The North is now pushing the Commission to introduce a package of measures comprising three legs—(1) abolition of Pol Govt's controversial “disciplinary chamber” prior to any disbursements being made to Warsaw 8/
(2) an infringement procedure by @EU_Commission challenging Poland’s position on supremacy of EU law and (3) the activation of EU’s new rule of law mechanism. Merkel, in the other direction, is leaning very hard on the Commission to be much softer 9/
Eg: rather than stipulate that abolition of disciplinary chamber is a pre-condition for €bn, the Chancellery is arguing that if “Poland indicates or takes positive steps towards abolition” that wd be enough. This is a substantial lowering of threshold Warsaw wd have to meet 10/
But as a N European source tells me: “We expect the Commission to be very tough. The ECJ says the disciplinary chamber needs to be abolished.  Can the Commission be softer than the ECJ? This will need to be a first step. It can’t be spread out over the next 6 or 7 years.” 11/
Importantly, I also understand @vonderleyen told EU leaders that she will NOT activate the EU's new RoL mechanism - condition (3) - until she has the final opinion of the ECJ, expected in Dec or Jan - REGARDLESS of the pressure she faces from MEP's in the European Parliament 12/
Who will win this tug of war? Who knows. But senior EU sources are clear that if Merkel does, @MinPres in conjunction with other Northern European member states, will vote AGAINST the Commission’s recommendation to disburse €bn to Warsaw 13/
While the legal basis for the €bn disbursement decision is qualified majority voting—meaning the Hague alone would not have a veto—the political implications of such a move would be unprecedented 14/
Senior Commission officials (rightly) worry it would effectively kill the prospect of a permanent Recovery Fund or “fiscal capacity” for Eurozone over medium term; it would also negatively impact Northern Europe’s willingness to substantively dilute EU’s fiscal rulebook. Ugh 15/
Where are French? @EmmanuelMacron usually takes a very tough position on these issues, but the French President is taking a much more cautious approach this time around. Elysée sources deny that this is because he fears it would be used against him by “sovereigntists” in Fr 16/
But everyone from Zemmour & Le Pen to Bertrand & Jean-Luc Melenchon have, in various ways, used Polish crisis to make ignorant comments on how supremacy of EU law works & suggest, w/out explaining how, Fr should assert primacy of its own national law while remaining in the EU 17/
This domestic context is therefore part of Macron’s go soft calculation—he does not want Brussels vs Warsaw to become a huge conflict which could spill over into his presidential race in Apr next year, esp as French electorate is ignorant & confused about how EU works 18/
And is ripe for exploitation by distorted, populist arguments which are difficult to counter in soundbites. The stance has not gone down well in N Europe. As one official says, “The Fr are not playing a large role. They are looking out for their own interests—as Fr always does”
Although Merkel has barely a month left in office and is likely to be replaced by a Govt that will be much tougher on rule of law issues than she has been, senior EU officials caution that her weight & impact on the debate should not be underestimated 20/
“She may be a lame duck, but she is still Angela Merkel and she still has a very strong voice in this debate” says one senior EU official. A N EU official puts it more directly: “Forget Merkel. The question is whether the Commission wants to side with these maniacs or democrats.”
With appeasement from Merkel & a hardline from the North, the key question is which way @vonderleyen now jumps. Who knows. Ultimately it is the Parliament that can bring her Commission down, not EU leaders. But is that a credible threat & will it prove enough? 22/
Regardless, the mealy-mouthed statements from Merkel have arguably already negatively impacted the incentives for Poland & Hungary to comply with EU's demands - and the result of such appeasement, naturally, is likely to be more defiance from both member states towards Bxl 23/
Only on Thursday last week, Orban insisted Hungary would resolutely “stand beside” Poland.  And as one senior Polish source says of the Polish Govt's real power behind the throne: “Kaczynski only heels when he has water up to his nostrils. He is Russian in that sense.” 24/
As I've said before, this is THE big issue now for @vonderleyen mandate. How will it be resolved? Full piece here:…

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More from @Mij_Europe

22 Oct
Every day brings a new French opinion poll and the presidential election is still 6 months away. Today’s poll is more interesting than most – the second deep dive by @lemondefr, Ispos and Sciences Po into a big, permanent sample of over 16,000 people 1/…
On the surface, the results more or less match other recent polls, which are based on much smaller samples. Macron is at 24% in first round voting intentions, the xenophobic pundit Eric Zemmour is second on 16-16.5%, Marine Le Pen third on about 15% 2/
The Le Monde mega-poll – the first since April – also confirms that Xavier Bertrand, president of the northern French region, has the most nationwide support of the contenders in the closed primary of the centre-right party, Les Républicains, on 4 Dec 3/
Read 8 tweets
21 Oct
Has the @ZemmourEric bubble burst? Who knows - but it’s no longer floating upwards. A new poll this afternoon by OpinionWay for Les Echos puts the xenophobic pundit at 13% of voting intentions in 1st round of Fr pres elex in April. Other recent surveys have put him at 14-17% 1/
Poll below. Rumours earlier this week of an unpublished poll putting Zemmour at 21% have proved unfounded. After tripling his support in a month, Zemmour’s score has scarcely moved in the last fortnight. Has he reached his ceiling? Too early to be sure 2/…
The Opinionway poll puts @EmmanuelMacron at top of 1st round voting intentions on 25% - roughly his score in all recent polls. The traditional Far Right in shape of Le Pen comes second on 18%, followed by Zemmour and poss centre right standard bearer Xavier Bertrand on 12% 3/
Read 4 tweets
19 Oct
Today @EU_Commission formally begins its “reflection/review” of EU fiscal rules. This is a BIG deal. The outcome will basically determine whether EU faces a fiscal cliff in 2023 or not. Short thread on 5 (worrying?) trends to watch that'll decisively shape how debate plays out 1/
1/ Process: As always in EU, key to substance. Fiscal hawks @VDombrovskis & Northern European member states want @EU_Commission annual fiscal surveillance cycle (starting next Apr) & fiscal review to be decoupled. Put diff: to default to old rules while new ones are worked out 2/
.@PaoloGentiloni believes momentum behind reform will be stronger if Commission’s surveillance & reflection are linked. Makes sense: why would @EU_Commission go back to old rules if it was clear they were changing? Whoever wins this process point will be 1/2 way on substance 3/
Read 11 tweets
15 Oct
The @EU_Commission @MarosSefcovic package create a big headache for @BorisJohnson & @DavidGHFrost - because they go further than both were expecting

But senior sources say UKG is still not resolved on compromise or conflict - & see risks & opportunities in both 1/
Without such a significant offer, UK ministers believe Johnson would have triggered Article 16, probably by end-November, to suspend all or (more likely) part of protocol. But UKG now has no choice but to seriously engage in talks - not just go through the motions 2/
Johnson’s allies think movement on ECJ will be needed to tip balance in favour of peace vs war, but this is something EU will find VERY difficult to do. How can Bxl offer ECJ concessions on SM/goods to 3rd country while insisting on court's writ with member states (ie Poland)? 3/
Read 12 tweets
14 Oct
The @EU_Commission is going to continue withholding Recovery Fund €bn from Pol & Hu & I suspect WILL activate new Rule of Law mechanism against them. Not because @vonderleyen is worried about @Europarl_EN taking her to court. But because it's in COM's own interests to do so 1/
The most imp reason is the creation of Recovery Fund & governance arrangements underpinning it. These have fundamentally altered @EU_Commission incentives. There's a recognition A LOT is riding on its successful implementation 2/
For eg: 1) whether something similar could be done in the future if EU was faced with another external shock. Or 2) whether EU fiscal rules can be substantially amended to give member states more time to repair their public finances & create budget space for green investments 3/
Read 10 tweets
9 Oct
The EU's proposals for addressing the problems in NI are substantive & far reaching. They will effectively do away with all paperwork for goods destined for NI - instead of a border in Irish Sea, think of a “green” (NI-bound) & “red” (Single Market) lane 1/
It has taken a lot of time & leadership from @MarosSefcovic & @vonderleyen to get Commission services & member states into line. Although EU capitals haven't seen the final package & all the details, they've been socialised with what's coming 2/
The Commission's ambition has been driven by 1) a desire to institute practical fixes to improve experience of citizens & businesses in NI, but also, importantly, 2) tactics 3/
Read 12 tweets

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