A universal freedom?
For countries that value, or at least profess to value, the ideals of civil rights and individual liberty, few themes are as important as freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is sacrosanct to many. Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights assesses freedom of expression to include “freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Recent laws ratified by the Polish parliament may provoke fears that such values may no longer be espoused by the Eastern European nation.
Poland elected a new government in October of 2015. The right wing Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS), or Law and Justice Party, won 37.6% of the vote, translating into 51% of seats and a majority in the Polish parliament. This followed a presidential election victory in May of 2015, which saw Andrzej Duda of the PiS become Poland’s president. The passage of the media bills may signal that the PiS is uncommitted to freedom of expression in the country. The laws, once enforced, will apply to the country’s public broadcasters, such as the TVP, and myriad local radio stations. Effectively, under guise of enforcing impartiality, these communication channels will come under direct control of the Polish government, giving the PiS administration the ability to hire and fire senior management at their discretion.
[via Gazzetta Italia]
These laws have received criticism both domestically and internationally. Most seriously perhaps is the opinion of the European Union. Poland has been a member of the EU since 2004, following over a decade of negotiations following the end of Soviet rule in 1989. However, the current ruling party, the PiS is markedly Euroskeptic.
The concerns at the European Union over Poland’s laws stem from the articles of the Treaty of European Union (also known as the Lisbon Treaty), of which Poland, as a stipulation of its ascension, is signatory to. Specifically, Article 2 of the treaty which refer to the values of the EU as an institution. There are concerns that the new media laws contradict these founding principles of the EU, and as such, Poland may be in violation of its membership. This has prompted a European Commission meeting on the 13th of January to discuss the rule of law in the country.
If it is assessed that Poland is in violation of the values of the European Union, serious consequences could result. Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty may be invoked against Poland. The effect of this would be the suspension of Poland’s voting rights in the European Council, which could be a first step in a full ejection. Both of these measures are unprecedented, and the EU President, Jean-Claude Junker stressed that he didn’t think the procedures would “get to that point”. But with a Euroskeptic government drifting increasingly further from the values the European Union was founded upon, Poland’s future at the heart of Europe is far from assured.