Wednesday 19 December 2018

Why we must back our judge's ruling

High Court judge Aileen Donnelly. Photo: Ronan Quinlan / Collins
High Court judge Aileen Donnelly. Photo: Ronan Quinlan / Collins
Editorial

Editorial

The importance of the decision by High Court judge Aileen Donnelly in refusing an extradition request from Poland, pending a review by the European Court of Justice, cannot be underestimated.

 At the heart of the decision is the very future of the EU in the form of a union of countries "founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights", as outlined in Article 2 of the establishing Treaty.

In announcing her ruling, Judge Donnelly was bringing to a head something which has been festering for the past three years since the current ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) came to power in Poland. Apart from the systematic dismantling of the independence of the Polish judiciary, the PiS has turned the national broadcaster into an arm of government propaganda and purged the public services of its critics, all the time espousing a form of "patriotic" nationalism and an appeal to "ordinary" voters and the demonisation of "elites" and former communists.

The EU Commission had already tried to take action against Poland by invoking Article 7 of the Treaty which is designed to punish those countries in persistent and serious breach of the terms of Article 2, but it is toothless, requiring unanimous backing from the member states.

And given that several former Soviet bloc countries are in sympathy with the Poles and behaving as badly, if not as blatantly, that won't happen.

All of this crystallises the East-West divide that now besets the EU. And it couldn't be happening at a worse time because right now there are no real leaders in the Union capable of bringing the weight of their office to bear on a problem that could threaten the very future of the EU.

Angela Merkel has just managed to cobble together a coalition after six months and must now act with less authority than heretofore, being more beholden to her partners. President Macron in France is still finding his feet as a European leader.

Spain is in turmoil with concern over the Catalonian desire for independence. Italy is politically chaotic, and even if the UK's Theresa May was not such a weak prime minister, Brexit would make her irrelevant in this context.

In this new division of Europe, Ireland must remain firmly on the side of those who still subscribe to the values of Article 2 and opposed to those who would challenge democracy and human rights. Some of those in the East are among the strongest advocates of the kind of free movement that, together with agitation for ever closer integration, frightened many British citizens into voting to leave the EU.

Yet they are the most opposed to offering shelter to genuine refugees from war-torn countries outside the EU and would rather erect walls and fences to keep them out and pay vast sums of money to the non-EU Turkey to act as a massive camp for those who have had to flee. Now even Dr Merkel has promised to prioritise tighter migration control, acknowledging this issue contributed to her electoral drubbing.

Judge Donnelly must be praised for the stand she has taken and it is to be hoped now that the European Court of Justice will be able to prevail where our political leaders have proved powerless. But it should never have come to this and it is an indictment of the European political leadership that it has been allowed to.

Sunday Independent

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