When the European Union’s Supreme Court this week cleared the way to cut billions of euros in funding to Poland and Hungary in an excessive violation of democratic rights, it was a major victory for women’s rights groups, which have sounded the alarm against the conservative Polish leadership who is walking away from its rights. women and girls in the country.
In a landmark decision, the European Court of Justice ruled on Wednesday in favor of making members’ access to EU cash aid conditional on their compliance with the EU’s core values and laws.
The ruling on the “conditionality mechanism” angered Poland and Hungary, which have been walking on thin ice in recent years over broader EU rights principles. Warsaw responded by criticizing the decision as “disturbing and dangerous” for its sovereignty, while Hungary, whose populist government faces elections on April 3, denounced the decision as “politically motivated”.
However, most of their fellow EU members applauded the decision. France called it “good news” while the Netherlands said it was an “important milestone”. The message from human rights groups was clear and clear: “Hungary and Poland are rapidly backing away from freedom of the media, independence of judges, and the right to protest. Rather than trying to oppose EU funds being conditioned on respect for the rule of law, they should respect the rights of the EU,” Amnesty International said in a statement. Women’s rights groups in particular, including the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Federation of Women and Family Planning, welcomed the decision, noting that current laws in Poland “endanger women’s lives.”
“It is very important that the European Union take this kind of measure to put as much pressure as possible on the Polish government to stop this very serious crisis,” Leah Hockter, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told FRANCE 24. , adding that withdrawing funds under the conditionality mechanism would be “completely legal.”
In its ruling, the European Court of Justice emphasized that, when Poland and Hungary joined the European Union in 2004, they said, they both agreed to be bound by “common values… such as the rule of law and solidarity,” and the EU “must be able to defend those Value”.
Europe’s Strict Abortion Laws The conservative Hungarian government has long been at loggerheads with Brussels over public procurement, conflicts of interest, corruption, and most recently a controversial anti-LGBT law banning schools from using any material that “promotes” homosexuality or transsexualism.
On the other hand, Poland has angered the European Union by reforming its judicial system in a way that critics say undermines the independence of judges, while in October last year, the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that Polish laws have an impact on EU laws. The Polish government, which is led by the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party and has strong links to the country’s conservative Catholics, has also swung into women’s rights, including the right to abortion.
On January 27 last year, Poland tightened already strict abortion laws, making it illegal to terminate any pregnancy, even if the fetus has serious defects. The only exceptions to the law are if the pregnancy occurred through rape or incest, or if the pregnancy poses a threat to the mother’s life.
“In practice, it is virtually impossible for those who qualify to have a legal abortion to obtain it,” Amnesty said in a statement issued on January 26, 2022.
Poland, along with Malta, now has the strictest abortion laws in Europe.
‘The women died’ In September last year, a 30-year-old Polish woman named Isabella died of septic shock after her doctors refused to perform a life-saving abortion as long as the fetus was still alive. The event drove tens of thousands of people into the Polish streets to protest, and prompted the European Union Parliament in November to adopt a resolution stating that “no more women should die because of [Poland’s] Abortion Restriction Act”.
In December, EU lawmakers again criticized Poland’s “retraction of the rule of law and basic rights”, following a new government proposal that would require Polish doctors to report all pregnancies and abortions to a central registry.
Hector likened the proposal to a witch hunt. “This means that there will be a way to monitor all people during pregnancy,” she said, noting that women who travel abroad to terminate their pregnancies may now face penalties when they return.
On January 25 this year, nearly to the day of the first anniversary of the controversial abortion law, another Polish woman lost her life after doctors refused to terminate her pregnancy.
“The women are now dead as a result of the crisis,” Hector said. “They are paying a heavy price.”
Höctor said her organization is deeply concerned about Poland’s new sex education bill, which was adopted on January 13. Under the new legislation, supervisors and teachers must ban any programs deemed “a threat to children’s morals”. .
With the ECJ ruling, Poland and Hungary now risk sanctions in two parts: through Article 7, which means they can be temporarily stripped of their EU voting rights, or through the conditionality mechanism, which can prevent them from receiving EU funds.
EU foreign ministers are due to meet on Article 7 on February 22. “We are asking all EU ministers who will attend this hearing and who will speak to the government on the rule of law crisis to be a voice for women and girls in Poland. So far, however, Article 7 has proven nearly impossible to activate,” Hökur said.
Activating the conditionality mechanism is another process entirely, and will need to go through the European Commission. Since it hasn’t been applied before, it can take weeks or months to get up and running.
Meanwhile, Poland and Hungary have threatened to retaliate against the bloc by disrupting other EU decisions that require consensus, including on climate and energy, as well as foreign policy.
This article has been translated from the original into French.