Blog: The Polish Question and the EU’s Illiberal Populism Dilemma

January 26, 2018

The TransCrisis project blog post is about the illiberal populism dilemma, authored by Martin Lodge, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the Department of Government and Director of the Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation at the London School of Economics and Political Science and Nick Sitter, research affiliate at CPS and professor at the School of Public Policy.

"On December 20th, 2017, the European Commission formally posed the Polish Question: Can the EU tolerate that a member state breaches the Union’s fundamental laws and values? At some point in 2018, under the procedure laid down in Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union, the other 27 member states might well be called upon to answer this question; first by a four-fifth majority vote on whether Poland is indeed in ‘clear breach’, and later – if applicable – by unanimity on whether to impose sanctions.

The Polish Question is about much more than the Polish government’s effort to limit the independence and power of its own judiciary. Ever since Vladimir Mečiar’s efforts to centralise political power in Slovakia in the mid-1990s (which the EU dealt with by relegating the country to the membership slow lane, until Mečiar lost power in 1998) and the right wing populist FPÖ joining the Austrian government after the 1999 election (when the other EU states responded by ‘monitoring’ the coalition), the EU has reluctantly prepared to deal with the possibility that a less than fully liberal democratic party might one day come to power in one of its member states. Article 7 provided the means for censuring such a government; Article 50 was designed to give an authoritarian state an exit option.

Since the Hungarian right-populist Fidesz won absolute power (including the two-thirds majority needed to rewrite the constitution) in 2010, that country has introduced a number of laws and measures that push at the boundaries of EU law. Journalists, politicians and academics have introduced the term ‘backsliding’ to capture the state’s gradual going back on its commitments to the fundamental values of the EU, and indeed to (constitutional) liberal democracy. Prime minister Viktor Orbán chose the term ‘illiberal democracy’ to sum up his idea of an alternative political system.

So why has it become a Polish Question, and why has the Hungarian question remained lower-case?" Continue reading at the TransCrisis website.