Krzysztof Szczerski’s Noah’s Days (Part 1)

In 2017 Krzysztof Szczerski publishes his monumental book on Europe. It is called “European Utopia” and is not popular with the academics or the public in Poland, but is an important manifestation of the views of the leading Law and Justice (PiS) politician. Some even consider him an ideologue of the PiS Europe standing.

The book begins with a Prologue, “Noah’s Days”. According to the author Europe today is a witness of a major change that not everybody is able to see. Mr Szczerski writes: “Before our eyes a certain pattern of the European states integration comes to an end; and rather its formula that has dominated the community policy at the highest point of integration. This highest phase I consider wrong and this is why I am not worried about its end. I would like, however, for us to understand the sense of the end of this period of integration, and use the opportunity of a wave of changes correctly for Poland’s benefit, our neighbours and the whole of Europe. We can impact the shape of European policy so that this policy regains once lost impetus and attractiveness for its citizens“.

Mr Szczerski embraces diversity, but warns: “the European integration retreats on all fronts, and the political elites of the European core have no answer, and what is more, they deepen the crises with some of their decisions and create new causes of crises“. The key problem is that “Brussels is detached from the life of an average European as never before, and at the same time it tries to interfere into the daily lives of a European citizen with its decisions“. Mr Szczerski calls it a European paradox.

At the same time, Mr Szczerski’s Europe is “a voluntary community created by free nations and equal states” where the EU institutions “should play only the servant’s role to member states“. The author likes the subsidiarity principle, that is the “foundation of the system” of the EU.

The European policy begins with democratic governments of member states and they are the source of original validity; only with the agreement of those national communities the supranational institutions and policies can function. Never other way round. The EU institutions like the European Commission and the European Parliament can never be the source of their own power and decision-making empowerment. They cannot create new power out of nothing, that is with their own decisions or own competence-demanding actions. This is why the Commission cannot one day announce, according to the spirit of the Union treaties, that it has a right to dictate internal decisions on, for example, the constitutional judiciary in one of its member states, since no state has ever transferred such competences“.

It is the states who are at the source of all decision making. The competences can be uploaded bottom up by states, never other way round. “Today many issues in the European Union are topsy-turvy. There is a chaos in which every institution tries to cut out competences for itself and claims a right to decide for others. The Union political system is the victim of the process, as it becomes illogical, or senseless“. Mr Szczerski claims that the effect is the following: “citizens feel oppressed by the power they cannot impact” and the next stage is coming: “This situation is unsustainable. The social reaction is coming and it can put an end to the united Europe“.

How to recover the stability? A new point of balance is necessary. A balance between “the unilateralism wave” and “the needs of maintaining of the integrated area“. “The European nations want to control their fate and their future, do not want to be steered top down by some international hipper-bureaucracy“, but he agrees that they need to act within a general agreement on a “unity of European interest“.

Unilateralism” according to the writer, is a “superior ideology, that requires to be respected and renounce own objectives and even believes“. This is why there is a growing opposition to this “unilateralism”, “to take back control“.

Fighting “unilateralism” needs to be done delicately, because even if “universalism can be dangerous” one should not give in to all those “who complain about Brussels. Europe shattered and divided becomes easier prey for external empires” and concludes: “it is not in the Polish interest to divide Europe“.

At the same time, there is a bigger challenge than disintegration: it is marginalisation of Poland within the EU. The risk of becoming an exploited periphery is rejected by Krzysztof Szczerski: “The scenario in which the Union disintegrates completely is very bad. The scenario in which the Union persists, but Poland and our region is relegated to a ‘grey zone’, outside of integration, is dramatic“.

Mr Szczerski concludes this part: “our task is to save Poland and Europe from the bad scenarios, which means we need to present a project to combine a greater subjectivity of European nations and states with maintaining their community above borders“.

How to square the circle? Europe today needs to regain its spiritual base. “Policy is an expression of identity, realisation of values, that are common“.

Et alors

Mr Szczerski describes European Union in a over-simplistic way. He argues Europe has no values and this is why it is doomed. He says Brussels over-regulates and imposes. He says Europe can only work with consent of member states.

Mr Szczerski does not recognise that the Treaties are precisely drafted with a list of competences granted, delegated, by the nations, states to the EU level. This is a done deal. As if he was to rediscover a wheel. This has been done long time ago, Mr Commissioner-to-be.

As for values, the European values are also included in the treaties. They include the rule of law. Hence the activity of rule of law defence of the Union is not an interference, but a defence of EU values.

I am missing at least three elements, from the start. First, it is the fact that the Union is a unique political system in the world that escapes a simple classification of an “international organisation”. For once, there is a tremendous jurisprudence of the Court of Justice that no other “international” court has. This political system is alive, hence dynamic, hence there is room for interpretation and re-interpretation. This is what makes it fit for purpose today: its elasticity.

Second missing element is the European citizen as a subject of a European policy. For Mr Szczerski citizens are national, hence the states are in the centre of power. Yet it is the citizen who makes the whole difference. As every European citizen, each of the 513 million this year until UK leaves, can take the issue to the Court of Justice, can elect the European Parliament, is represented in the Strasbourg chamber and indirectly, chooses the European Commission, he or she is at the bottom of the ladder, alongside the states.

This is what makes the EU stand on a double legitimacy: it is the European citizens who elect the Parliament and the national democratically elected governments. The source of legitimacy is double, and no one power can claim “exclusive right”, as Mr Szczerski does for the states.

That is, of course, as long as we do not change the treaties, one could think, as the EU competences are written down in the treaties and every treaty change requires all member states national ratifications. Yet even here there is a trace of the second source of democratic legitimacy: the Parliament’s role in the redrafting of EU treaties is the strongest ever – for once it has to approve the change alongside the states. It chooses the way the treaty is negotiated (convention or not), too.

To disregard the citizen is a grave omission.

Third is the globalisation. Completely not referenced yet, one cannot fully grasp the counter-reaction in democratic nations in Europe or in a wider world without referencing the globalisation processes. The emergence of global markets and global companies, who dictate and demand, who control and are, effectively, undemocratic actors in the democratic arena with states and the EU institutions, is a major reason why so many Europeans feel disenfranchised. EU has a dilemma in this regard: at the same time it is viewed as the “last resort of defence” against global companies, and as an vehicle for globalisation, hence a threat as it pushes a liberalisation agenda with free trade agreements.

The real imposition of the Commission is towards smaller “partner” nations, not towards the member states. The difference of power between Cyprus, that dictates EU policy towards Turkey, and Lebanon is staggering. France has a smaller population than Vietnam. There are more people in Ethiopia than Germany. Individually all European states are small. Poland does not think it is small. Mr Szczerski does not think Poland is small at all.

I shall continue with the second part of Noah’s Days tomorrow.

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