The decision of the European Commission to trigger for the first time Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty against Poland is a resounding message to authoritarian and populist governments that have emerged in Europe recently. That action can lead even to the suspension of voting rights in the Council, and it is the result of the Polish government’s constant interventions aiming at controlling the judiciary and the press.
The interventions of the Polish government were so extreme that they forced the Commission to step in to protect common European values and the EU acquis.
Yet, it is not only the Polish government which is attempting through undemocratic methods to control and subjugate the judiciary.
All authoritarian and populist powers attempt to establish and maintain a monopoly of power.
Thus, they undermine or abolish the separation of powers.
Such regimes may not yet espouse the methods of the Polish government, but they make arduous efforts either to degrade any judicial functionaries who refuse to be subjugated to their demands.
We have witnessed this many times in our own country, in cases where a judicial ruling is not to the liking of the government, or does not suit it.
We all remember the televised pronunciamentos concerning the rulings on television station licensing, on the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), and on property and assets declarations.
Citing as a pretext the right to criticise judicial decisions, ministers, MPs, and even the prime minister himself, systematically launch attacks or even direct threats against judges.
Judicial independence, however, is not a la carte. It is a cornerstone of democracy, and a guarantee of the protection of citizens from the arbitrary authority of the executive branch of government. The meddling of political authority, and even more so its efforts to control the judiciary, cannot be allowed or accepted by liberal, democratic regimes.
The absolute separation of powers is also a fundamental element of our common, European inheritance. That was signaled in the most resounding manner by the European Commission’s intervention against Poland.
Let that be considered seriously by all those who hope for or design efforts to subjugate the judiciary in order to muzzle or neutralise anyone who dares to criticise them or do not bend to their designs.