“The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.” (Treaty on EU, Article 2)
Democracy. Humanity’s dream. Invented by the ancient Athenian Greeks, implemented by Americans and now, these days, almost shattered in one of the former communist bloc states in Eastern Europe.
Poland is already at the first big step on the path that leads outside modern democracy.
On Thursday, Polish Premier Mateusz Morawiecki stated, with “profound regret,” that he expects the European Commission to activate Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Poland this week. A sort of emergency code red in case of signs pointing to an imminent failure of the democratic system in a Union member state.
Article 7 of the Treaty on the European Union stipulates a mechanism meant to strengthen the values of the EU. According to Article 7(1), the Council can establish that there is a clear risk of serious infringement of EU values on the part of a member state, and can prevent an actual infringement through certain specific recommendations made for the said member state.
Among the grave reasons that have led to the apex of democratic crisis inside the Polish state and have triggered this major alarm amidst the EU are reasons mainly concerning the observance of the rule of law and of the independence of the judiciary, the separation of powers, the legislative process, civil society and certain rights and freedoms.
Issues such as rapid legislative processes, occurring without consultation and without independent and legitimate constitutional oversight, in sensitive and vital fields such as the media, criminal law, police, public offices, terrorism, NGOs, etc., the reformulation of legislative provisions that would undermine the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law, failure to adopt or stop the legislation of laws contrary to that, and the national-level debate, featuring wide participation, on the reform of the judicial system, etc., have alarmed Europe and have sent Poland to the floor through an unprecedented KO that Polish politicians delivered against the foundations of democracy. For Poland, the final countdown has already started.
And yet, paradoxically, despite this absolutely sombre and shocking picture of unmistakable signs of Polish democratic decline, Poland is only second among Eastern European states when it comes to the speed with which anti-democratic laws are being adopted on a conveyor belt.
Romania ranks first.
For me, and I suspect not just for me, the Polish anti-democratic model represents a deja-vu at this moment.
Why? In a manner that is as simplistic and reducible as possible, I will mention only this: the package of amendments to the judicial laws, proposed by Minister Tudorel Toader and the tireless, tenacious, and autistic special judiciary committee formed in Parliament – the Iordache Committee.
Modifying the statute of magistrates, by removing from the already existing body of law the independence guarantee offered to the prosecutor. Modifying the judicial system law by creating the Special Section for the investigation of crimes committed by magistrates. A Section whose boss will be appointed in a manner less transparent and less aligned with the standards and precepts of the magistracy corps and more directly aligned with the vision and will of the political power. The modifications brought to the law on the functioning of the CSM. Whose stake is taking the Judicial Inspection from under the control and coordination of the CSM, an issue that would, apparently, confer autonomy upon this judicial entity but which, in fact, does not guarantee in any way its full independence nor complete intangibility or aloofness from political interference. And, last but not least, eliminating the Romanian President from the procedure of appointing the chief prosecutors, rendering ineffective and blunt the veto held by the only state entity that can and must remain impartial, unbiased and equidistant from any political side and interference. These, and more, are becoming with each passing day veritable lethal weapons at the disposal and in the hands of the political class and of the ruling power of today’s Romania.
In any democratic state of the world, the judiciary is and must remain the absolute guarantor of the observance of the country’s laws and of the fundamental principles of the rule of law.
Because the judiciary unequivocally delimits and outlines that vital border between law and lawlessness, between freedom and the absence of any freedom, between truth and untruth, between life and death.
In any democratic state of the world, the separation of powers represents one of the fundamental axes of democracy. It is not an optional or metaphoric concept and it cannot be politically manipulated and subjugated.
In a dictatorship, the judiciary, like any other state mechanism, is subordinated to political will. In a democracy, the judiciary is in the service of the state, Constitution and citizens, as absolute manifestations. It decides where the political act ends and where lies the starting point of abuse, high-level corruption, the deprivation of any individual or state institution of any form of freedom, the infringement of the democratic moral precepts within the state and in its relations with the other states of the world.
For several years, Romania has received and is continuing to receive countless warnings from various international bodies – European and American – regarding the repeated errors and backsliding that the Romanian political class makes, conserves and perpetuates in the act of governance and in the state’s relations with any of its levels and functioning mechanisms.
The Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) applied to Romania represents one of the instruments that attests clear and alarming concern on the part of the outside world in what concerns the way the country’s political body sees fit to observe and implement the precepts of democracy and, especially, to respect and consolidate the judiciary as an essential and non-optional part of the rule of law.
However, Romania’s current political power remains deaf and blind to all these calls and warnings.
For well over a year, Romanians have taken to the streets. The people’s fury, concern and despair have reached fever pitch and are directly linked to the political power’s abuses toward the judiciary and the fundamental principles of democracy and rule of law.
The political power is ignoring people. Just as it is ignoring the country’s laws. And, through this, the whole Romanian judiciary and democracy.
But can Europe be ignored?
Looking at Poland’s case, the answer is but one – it certainly and absolutely CANNOT!
The nostalgia for dictatorship and the inertia accumulated in the more than 40 years of communist oppression and repression seems to have finally defeated the Polish people’s will. The Poles no longer take to the streets. It’s winter, the holidays are coming and, with them, that moment that winter 28 years ago when the walls of the communist camp seemed to crumble forever, and it seemed that Eastern Europe could finally breathe freely and could enter and walk on the path of democracy.
Romanians continue to take to the street. Because, unlike the Poles, it seems Romanians still know and have understood that dictatorship and communism were not killed and buried in the winter of 1989. That was only the beginning of an end we are still practicing today too.