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Warsaw’s proposal for referendum 'puts EU embarrassingly on the spot': The Spectator

06.07.2023 20:30
Britain’s weekly The Spectator carries in its latest issue an in-depth article on the issue of immigration.
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The weekly’s columnist Andrew Tettenborn, who is a professor of law at Swansea Law School, outlines the gist of a new plan devised by Brussels which was adopted by qualified majority voting, and under which “each member state will be given a quota and could then be charged €20,000 (£17,000) per head for falling short”.

He stresses that “this is legally fairly watertight, since, under EU law, immigration is generally a matter for majority voting. Added to this, if push comes to shove, the European Court might well support the Brussels’ view, especially where that calls for the centralisation of powers. But politically it could well create an enormous Euro-headache, as events in Poland made clear”.

According to Tettenborn, the Polish government’s decision to put the refugee issue to a referendum, timed to coincide with the elections in the autumn, is “well-timed to disconcert Brussels”.

“Brussels argues”, he writes, that “states […] have a choice to pay rather than allow actual immigration, and that in any case Poland could expect credit for its acceptance of Ukrainian refugees. Poland unsurprisingly is unimpressed by such fudging, seeing the payment of €20,000 per refugee not taken as a fine under another name. They have pointed out that, in the last resort, the legal power to determine how many each member state had to settle lay with Brussels.

The difficulty faced by Brussels is that Poland has a point. Whatever the legalities, politically, at least, Warsaw is on strong ground. The idea that Warsaw might be ordered by those outside its borders – and over whom it has little to no control – to take unspecified numbers with no veto understandably shocks the Polish government.

The Spectator writes: “The proposal for a Polish referendum puts the EU embarrassingly on the spot. Suppose Poles do vote in fairly large numbers against the legal rules for refugees proposed by Brussels, and that the Polish government duly follows this vote with a point-blank refusal to obey them. What would the Commission do?

It could backtrack and work out some kind of untidy compromise with Poland, and probably with Hungary too. But it knows quite well that conceding what would be seen as a de facto veto in this case would dangerously undermine its position in other areas; its long-standing efforts to cajole or coerce the nations of eastern Europe to toe the Brussels line, on matters ranging from appointment of judges to the environment and LGBT policy, would be jeopardised.

Alternatively, the EU could hold its ground. It could put the matter before the European court and insist on the supremacy of EU law over the results of mere national referendums, in the same way that it might demand that the wish of a Berlaymont bureaucrat potentially prevail over even a national constitution. But this would leave its democratic credentials even more tattered, and also stoke anti-European feeling in countries that still retain uncomfortable memories of Soviet bullying”.

In conclusion, the British weekly argues: “The EU will clearly be praying for Morawiecki to lose both election and referendum. But if he does not, the choice facing it will not be attractive. Whichever way it goes, it is hard to see the EU escaping a big dent to both its reputation and its authority”.