EP VP comments on Poland, Hungary were “shameful”: PM aide

The Polish prime minister’s chief of staff Michał Dworczyk said that the vice president of the European Parliament, Katarina Barley’s statement about Poland and Hungary was “shameful” and evoked "the worst possible historical associations.” He went on to quip, "Germans indeed have experience in starving and persecution".

Earlier on Friday the German broadcaster Deutschlandfunk apologised for initially misquoting Katarina Barley, a vice-president of the European Parliament, to suggest she said that “countries such as Poland and Hungary must be starved financially” by being deprived of EU subsidies. The broadcaster claimed that Ms Barley "was only referring to Hungary, not Poland, in this context."

In an interview with Deutschlandfunk Ms Barley said that the EU should put more pressure on Poland and Hungary in order to “uphold the rule of law.” Ms Barley, a former German justice minister and SPD member, argued that the two countries have a record of “not just individual cases of misconduct,” but “systematic” rule-of-law infringements. She suggested that EU funds could be “an effective lever” to bring the two member states into line.

Reports of her remarks caused a wave of indignation in Polish government circles. Deputy foreign minister Paweł Jabłoński called on Katarina Barley to resign.

Mr Jabłoński said that he had listened to a recording of Ms Barley’s interview and the words “aushungern finanziell”, meaning to “starve financially” are audible and clearly apply to both Hungary and Poland. He called on the German politician not to try and deny responsibility but to face the consequences by resigning. He added that should Ms Barley refuse to resign she should be recalled from her post.

“Such statements amount to actions which divide the EU”, said Mr Jabłoński. He also felt that such aggressive words were “unacceptable “ in the mouths of German politicians because of the history between Poland and Germany.

Rule of law compliance dispute

Poland and Hungary are in dispute with the EC over their judicial reforms. Both countries have been accused of undermining judicial independence. Poland and Hungary deny the charge and argue that they are instituting judicial reforms removing the last vestiges of the past communist system and that these reforms do not give the executive and legislative branches any more power over the judiciary than is enjoyed in many other member states. They also argue that EU treaties make the organisation of judicial systems the sole responsibility and competence of each and every member state.

The EC has instigated rule of law compliance procedures under Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty. However, for such action to result in sanctions there would have to be unanimity among the members of the European Council. This has never been possible as several member states are reluctant to set such a precedent for fear of falling foul of such processes in the future.

This is why the EC has filed cases for rule of law infringements with the ECJ. Both Poland and Hungary have so far accepted and complied with rulings made by the ECJ and have retreated on some aspects of their judicial reforms.

The EP has called on both Poland and Hungary to have their EU funding stopped for the alleged rule of law violations. A mechanism for rule of law compliance is to be instituted as part of the European Recovery Fund and European Union budget disbursement procedures.