POSTS BY Kim Lane Scheppele

Poland and the European Commission, Part III: Requiem for the Rule of Law

On 20 February 2017, the Polish government has replied to the European Commission’s rule of law findings. That reply is so clearly absurd, rude and full of ‘alternative facts’ that the case to trigger the sanction mechanism in Art 7 TEU promptly is more compelling than ever. It is time for Member State governments to get their act together and make explicit their disapproval of a government that finds it acceptable not only to violate its national Constitution and EU values in plain sight but also to bully and disrespect EU representatives such as Frans Timmermans and Donald Tusk.

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Poland and the European Commission, Part II: Hearing the Siren Song of the Rule of Law

As Poland has careened away from the rule of law, the European Commission has struggled to work out its response. Given Europe’s multiple crises at the moment, the internal affairs of a rogue government or two may seem less critical to Europe’s well being than crises that affect multiple states at the same time, like the refugee crisis, the Euro-crisis or the fallout from Brexit. But the proliferation of governments inside the EU that no longer share basic European values undermines the reason for existence of the EU in the first place.

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Poland and the European Commission, Part I: A Dialogue of the Deaf?

On 21 December 2016, the European Commission adopted an additional Recommendation regarding the rule of law in Poland. Rather than starting the Article 7 sanctioning process, the Commission merely reiterated its old demands, added some new concerns and again held out the threat of Article 7 while apparently moving no closer to actually starting a sanctioning process. It is not that the Commission was unaware of what was happening in Poland. In December, the Commission stood by and watched the Polish government capture the Constitutional Tribunal. The new Recommendation indicates that the Commission simply chose not to act to head off the final stages of the Tribunal’s demise.

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The EU and Poland: Giving up on the Rule of Law?

With an off-hand remark in a Belgian newspaper, President Juncker has called off the EU Commission’s effort to pressure Poland into following the rule of law. If he went through with this, he would not only pull the rug from under his own First Vice President Timmermans and spare the national governments the necessity to live up to their responsibilities. The Commission President deciding that the slide of a member state into authoritarianism is not his business, with a Trump Presidency in the US coming, forgoes the European Union’s claim to be capable of fulfilling its leadership role in the world.

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Can Poland be Sanctioned by the EU? Not Unless Hungary is Sanctioned Too

Hungary has announced to block any Article 7 sanctions that the EU might propose against Poland. Why should Poland back down when nothing will come of standing up to the EU? Given Polish intransigence, the Commission may be tempted to stall for time or to retreat, which would be disastrous for the rule of law in the European Union. But the power to levy Article 7 sanctions can be restored. The Commission should do now what it should have done long ago. It should begin by triggering Article 7 (1) not only against Poland, but against Hungary as well.

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Making Infringement Procedures More Effective: A Comment on Commission v. Hungary

On 8 April, Hungary lost again at the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ). The European Commission had alleged that that Hungary violated the independence of its data protection officer and the ECJ agreed. The case broke little new legal ground. But it is important nonetheless because it signals serious trouble within the EU. The case exposes Hungary’s ongoing challenge to the EU’s fundamental principles. And it exposes the limitations of ordinary infringement proceedings for bringing a Member State back into line.

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Legal but not Fair: Viktor Orbán’s New Supermajority

Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party coasted to a clear victory in last weekend’s Hungarian election, as expected. The governing party got 45% of the vote, but the new “rules of the game” turned this plurality vote into two thirds of the seats in the parliament. A continuing two-thirds parliamentary majority allows Orbán to govern without constraint because he can change the constitution at will. But this constitution-making majority hangs by a thread. Orbán’s mandate to govern is clear because his party got more votes than any other single political bloc. What is not legitimate, however, is his two-thirds supermajority. Orbán was certainly not supported by two-thirds of Hungarians – nowhere close. In fact, a majority gave their votes to other parties. Orbán’s two-thirds victory was achieved through legal smoke and mirrors. Legal. But smoke and mirrors. Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party coasted to a clear victory in last weekend’s Hungarian election, as expected. The governing party got 45% of the vote, but the new “rules of the game” turned this plurality vote into two thirds of the seats in the parliament. A continuing two-thirds parliamentary majority allows Orbán to govern without constraint because he can change the constitution at will. But this constitution-making majority hangs by a thread. Orbán’s mandate to govern is clear because his party got more votes than any other single political bloc. What is not legitimate, however, is his two-thirds supermajority. Orbán was certainly not supported by two-thirds of Hungarians – nowhere close. In fact, a majority gave their votes to other parties. Orbán’s two-thirds victory was achieved through legal smoke and mirrors. Legal. But smoke and mirrors.

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Legal but not Fair: Viktor Orbán’s New Supermajority

Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party coasted to a clear victory in last weekend’s Hungarian election, as expected. The governing party got 45% of the vote, but the new “rules of the game” turned this plurality vote into two thirds of the seats in the parliament. A continuing two-thirds parliamentary majority allows Orbán to govern without constraint because he can change the constitution at will. But this constitution-making majority hangs by a thread. Orbán’s mandate to govern is clear because his party got more votes than any other single political bloc. What is not legitimate, however, is his two-thirds supermajority. Orbán was certainly not supported by two-thirds of Hungarians – nowhere close. In fact, a majority gave their votes to other parties. Orbán’s two-thirds victory was achieved through legal smoke and mirrors. Legal. But smoke and mirrors. Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party coasted to a clear victory in last weekend’s Hungarian election, as expected. The governing party got 45% of the vote, but the new “rules of the game” turned this plurality vote into two thirds of the seats in the parliament. A continuing two-thirds parliamentary majority allows Orbán to govern without constraint because he can change the constitution at will. But this constitution-making majority hangs by a thread. Orbán’s mandate to govern is clear because his party got more votes than any other single political bloc. What is not legitimate, however, is his two-thirds supermajority. Orbán was certainly not supported by two-thirds of Hungarians – nowhere close. In fact, a majority gave their votes to other parties. Orbán’s two-thirds victory was achieved through legal smoke and mirrors. Legal. But smoke and mirrors.

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EU-Kommission v. Ungarn: Warum wir ein "System-Vertragsverletzungsverfahren" brauchen

Was kann die Europäische Union – und vor allem die Kommission – gegen Mitgliedsstaaten unternehmen, die sich nicht länger an die grundlegendsten europäischen Regeln halten? Die Frage drängt, weil bereits mehrere Mitgliedsstaaten uns bereits vor solche Herausforderungen stellen. Eine Vertragsreform könnte die Kommission stärken. Aber kann sie handeln, ohne abwarten zu müssen, bis sie nach einem langen und mühevollen Prozess der Vertragsreform neue Kompetenzen erhält? Kim Lane Scheppele schlägt einen neuen Ansatz vor, die schlichte Ausdehnung eines existierenden Mechanismus – des Vertragsverletzungsverfahrens.

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EU Commission v. Hungary: The Case for the "Systemic Infringement Action"

What can the European Union – and in particular the European Commission – do about Member States that no longer reliably play by the most fundamental European rules? The question is now urgent because several Member States are already posing such challenges. Treaty reform could give the Commission new powers. But can the Commission act without waiting for the long and arduous process of treaty reform to provide new tools? Kim Lane Scheppele proposes a new approach, a simple extension of an existing mechanism: the infringement action.

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