“Some boys think they will be paid to play soccer here”

F.D.P. politician Joachim Stamp on his new post as special representative for migration agreements, the deportation of foreigners who commit crimes and the idea of transferring asylum procedures abroad.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

This interview was first published in German by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 4 February 2023:
“Manche Jungs glauben, dass sie bei uns fürs Fußballspielen bezahlt werden

Excerpts from the interview:

Mr. Stamp, you have just taken office as the German government’s “special representative for migration agreements.” A tabloid called you “Germany’s top deportation commissioner.” Is that how you see yourself?

It’s explicitly not just about deportations, especially since the federal states are still responsible for that. It’s about a fundamentally new political approach: comprehensive agreements with the countries of origin, so-called migration agreements.

These agreements provide for a country to be granted a quota of legal immigration if it accepts back its own citizens who have committed criminal offenses in Germany or whose asylum applications have been rejected.

Such agreements would have to vary from country to country. But in principle, we agreed in the coalition agreement between the two parties to reduce irregular migration and strengthen regular migration. The idea goes back to proposals such as those made by migration researcher Gerald Knaus, with whom I am in regular contact.

In 2019, Knaus proposed concluding an agreement with The Gambia as a model: Legal immigration within a certain quota, if Gambia first takes back criminals as well as, from a cut-off date, all other nationals who come to Germany outside this quota.

This is actually a model that is very conceivable.

But the coalition agreement also says: “Not every person who comes to us can stay. We are launching a repatriation offensive to implement departures more consistently, especially the deportation of criminals and dangerous persons.” How is this to be achieved?

In the past, there were always steep announcements about deportations from certain politicians, but experience shows that nothing happens without the willingness of the countries of origin to take back their citizens who are obliged to leave the country. Some countries of origin also refuse to take back their citizens because a strong diaspora in Germany is economically important to them through remittances. Such transfer payments are often much higher than German development aid, which is why threatening to cancel them makes little impression. We have to convey to these countries that it is better for them if their people do not live here in illegality but in a regular way, because then they are of course much stronger financially and can better support their home country. For this, we can offer a certain number of regular visas to study here, to do an apprenticeship or to go directly into the labour market. Through the newly created right of opportunity to stay, we also offer those who are already here and who have a job here a prospect of legalizing their status. But we also have a clear expectation: in order to provide the integrated majority with a regular status, countries must take back their citizens who are considered criminals and dangerous persons here – and, from a certain date, all other of their citizens who still come to Germany irregularly.

The 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey was based on a similar model. However, it has failed.

Initially, the agreement helped to greatly reduce migration flows on the Balkan route. This was also because Turkey was given the means to integrate millions of refugees from Syria, who then did not even make their way to Europe. The fact that this later developed differently due to the policies of Turkish President Erdoğan is another matter.

Some EU states have other ideas for controlling the so-called Balkan route than migration agreements. Vienna, Budapest or Athens, for example, are calling for EU funds to further expand Greece’s and Bulgaria’s border fences with Turkey.

I am sceptical about this. Of course, Europe’s external borders must be protected. But barbed wire and fences alone are not enough to stop irregular migration. Instead, agreements with the countries of origin can ensure that people don’t venture into the desert in the first place, don’t board unseaworthy boats in the Mediterranean, and don’t climb over barbed-wire fences only to end up here in an asylum system where they don’t belong because they are not persecuted in their countries. We want to create opportunities for a limited and contingent number to apply regularly for the German labour market, provided that those who try to do so on their own and who have no right of asylum here are readmitted by their countries of origin without further ado. We have had good experience with the Western Balkans arrangement. While the circumstances are somewhat different in this case, we want to extend the principle similarly to other countries and regions of the world. Of course, there are countries with which we cannot reach agreements at present for fundamental reasons, such as Syria or Afghanistan. But we will seek dialog with many other countries.

Your title “Special Representative of the Federal Government” sounds solemn, but you are a king without a country, since you have no real powers. Who are your most important partners?

That remains to be seen. We have excellent civil servants in the ministries, but there has been a lack of a body to bundle the initiatives of the various ministries into a strategy. That is also my task. If, for example, the Ministry of Labor wants to recruit workers in a particular country, this should be coordinated not only with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Development, but also with the Ministry of the Interior in such a way that the obligation to leave the country for people without the right of residence is also integrated into the agreements from the outset. We also need to bring practitioners together, even beyond the usual hierarchies. In my years as Integration Minister in North Rhine-Westphalia, I often experienced criticism from the federal police to the municipalities and from the municipalities to the federal police because there was a lack of agreements. There continue to be errors and gaps in logistics that repeatedly lead to delays or cancellations of deportations. Practitioners from all agencies involved can certainly achieve many improvements by talking directly with each other.

Many companies that have found workers abroad and can present signed employment contracts complain that this is not the case.

This has been a problem for a long time. In my time as minister, companies complained about this time and again. We need to make greater use of digitization here, and we also need to increase the number of staff in the relevant departments. We also need to become more flexible in the recognition of educational and vocational qualifications if we want to manage labor immigration well. However, I would caution against exaggerated expectations. None of this will bring quick results overnight. What is important is that we start down this new path and network the work between the ministries more closely.

According to the coalition agreement, the traffic lights also want to examine whether asylum procedures can be relocated to third countries. What does that mean exactly?

That we want to examine whether asylum procedures can be carried out in third countries, for example under the umbrella of the UNHCR, in compliance with the Geneva Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. Then people rescued on the Mediterranean would be brought to North Africa for their proceedings. But that requires a great deal of diplomacy and a long lead time. And it is clear that a country like Libya, for example, cannot be a partner for this in its current state. We need to take a close look at developments in potential partner countries. We are not talking about a quick fix, as former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson did with Rwanda.

Whereas British courts have ruled that Johnson’s move to transfer British asylum procedures to Rwanda is compatible with the UN Refugee Convention.

It is important that the standards of international law are upheld; anything less is out of the question. But on this basis, we actually want to think about it.

You will certainly get applause for this from parts of your party – but will the Greens go along with it?

It is crucial that we both end the deaths in the Mediterranean and the pushbacks at the EU’s external borders and reduce irregular migration. To do this, we need to remove the motivation for people to embark on the life-threatening crossing in the first place. This can be accomplished by providing regular alternatives to entry for a select group, if all others without asylum rights are consistently deported. Another case is those who entered irregularly, but who have abided by all the rules here for years. People who are integrated into the labour market and learn the language, whose children go to school, who have become a natural part of our society. We want to make it possible for them to stay permanently. On the other hand, we want to put all our concentration into getting rid of those who don’t play by the rules.

Those who only talk about deportation are missing the point

Never before has Germany taken in so many refugees as last year. To cope with this task, more than cheap promises is needed.

This article was published in Die Zeit in German on 9 February 2023:
Wer nur von Abschiebung spricht, der blendet

A guest article by Gerald Knaus

Gerald Knaus of the European Stability Initiative (ESI) is one of Europe’s most influential experts on refugee policy. He helped develop the EU-Turkey Statement and wrote the books “Welche Grenzen brauchen wir?”(What Borders Do We Need?) and “Wir und die Flüchtlinge”(Us and the Refugees).

Since the founding of the Federal Republic, Germany has not taken in as many refugees in any year as it did in 2022. Last year, protection was granted to one million Ukrainians who fled to Germany after the Russian aggression and from the bloodiest war in Europe since the 1940s. In addition, about 100,000 asylum seekers, including more than 75,000 from Syria and Afghanistan, were also granted protection at first instance in 2022. Still others were granted protection by courts in the second instance and for 30,000 people, most of them Afghans, deportation was suspended in 2022.

Germany was thus a pillar of international refugee protection in 2022. But the practical challenges this entails are great. The most important reasons for the historic refugee year of 2022 are named quickly: above all Russia, then Syria and Afghanistan. Or: Putin, Assad, and the Taliban. Their actions were the cause of mass flight.

If you now add up these figures, you also immediately realise how misleading the current debate about speeding up deportations from Germany is. The vast majority of people who applied for asylum in Germany last year and in the years before were granted asylum or came from countries to which all European countries hardly ever deport – regardless of whether Thomas de Maizière, Horst Seehofer or Nancy Faeser headed the Ministry of the Interior in Berlin. This is because the vast majority of asylum applications, more than 80 per cent, were filed in Germany in recent years by citizens from ten countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, Georgia, Somalia, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria and Russia. Refugees from Ukraine do not have to apply for asylum, they usually receive temporary protection status without red tape.

Deportations are necessary, but one must remain realistic

In 2021, 120,000 people from these ten countries submitted one of the 150,000 asylum applications in Germany. In 2022, they accounted for 180,000 out of 220,000 applications. The increase in applications between 2021 and 2022 can almost entirely be explained by the growth in asylum applications from these ten countries.

At the same time, however, there were and are almost no deportations to these countries. The only exception is Georgia, with good reason. The country, which benefits from visa-free travel to the EU for its citizens, cooperates very well in taking back its citizens. There were just over 1,000 deportations to Georgia in 2021. To the other nine countries, there were just as many in total.

But what does the political promise of a “deportation offensive” mean? That in 2023 not 52 people would be deported to Iraq as in 2021, but 152? That the number of deportations to Somalia would increase from 13 (2021) to 130 (2023)? In 2021, there were still a few controversial deportations to Afghanistan: 167. But these have also ended since the Taliban seized power. The same applies to deportations to Russia since the war on Ukraine.

Even a fivefold increase in deportations to these most important asylum-seeking countries would only be a few thousand people per year. In view of the large number of those who would receive protection in Germany in 2022, especially from Ukraine, this would hardly relieve German municipalities of the burden of receiving them. Those who promise this are missing the point.

Now, on the one hand, an asylum system in which final asylum decisions have no consequences does not make sense: in that case, one could dispense with procedures, as the EU did with the Ukrainians in 2022 for good reason. However, at the external borders this would have the foreseeable consequence of reinforcing already existing systematic pushbacks – as is the case today in Poland or Greece. Deportations are necessary, but those who demand them must remain realists.

The strongest argument in favour of strategic deportations is therefore that – within the framework of migration agreements limited to the deportation of convicted criminals or new arrivals according to cut-off dates – these could reduce life-threatening irregular migration across the sea and thus also save lives without relying on human rights violations. Negotiating migration agreements, which the new Special Envoy Joachim Stamp is supposed to tackle, is therefore about specifically getting convicted criminals out of the country, and reducing future irregular migration, for example across the Mediterranean. However, this would not change the fact that in 2023, as in 2022, most of the people seeking protection in Germany would again come from Ukraine, Syria, and Afghanistan, would receive protection and would not be affected by deportations.

A pilot project also for others

Thus, in the face of a record number of refugees in Germany as well as in Europe, the current discussions are helpless and devoid of strategy. The EU agreed on visa sanctions against the smallest country in Africa, Gambia, a young democracy and one of the poorest countries in the world, which does not even have a Schengen consulate. Incidentally, most Gambians in Europe who are obliged to leave the country live in Baden-Württemberg. Germany would be well advised to take the opposite course to achieve results and not destabilise countries: To make offers to strategically focus on the deportation of criminals and those who arrive after a cut-off date, and to allow the country quotas of legal migration in exchange. As a pilot project for others as well.

Equally unhelpful and pointless are considerations in Europe to once again close the so-called Balkan route in this crisis, as Viktor Orbán and Sebastian Kurz did once before in 2016. In these plans, the EU agency Frontex is to be sent to the borders of the Western Balkans to stop migrants there. This is all the more absurd because almost everyone in the EU is counting on Bulgaria and Romania to join the Schengen area as soon as possible, which will mean that there will no longer be any border controls between Greece and Germany. But then what are bored Frontex officials on the green border between northern Macedonia and Serbia supposed to do when there are no more borders around the EU-enclosed Western Balkans? Here, too, the opposite strategy would be more promising: to concentrate on the EU’s actual external border with Turkey, to negotiate agreements there through migration diplomacy and to present the Western Balkan states with a roadmap for joining the Schengen area soon, after reforms. And in this way, also in the interest of peace, to make disputed borders such as between Serbia and Kosovo more invisible.

But anyone who suggests today that more deportations would relieve the burden on municipalities in a situation in which nine out of ten refugees admitted in 2022 came legally from Ukraine is raising expectations that can never become reality. And thus does the business of populists who are already driven by fear and anger against allegedly traitorous elites. No democratic party in Germany can want that.

80 per cent a consequence of Putin’s war

What would be needed? A message that helps centrist politicians arm themselves against populists. Three measures that could also help the municipalities. And a concrete vision for the future, as also contained in the German coalition agreement.

The most important message: this historic refugee crisis in Germany and Europe is 80 percent a result of Putin’s war. The only way to prevent this crisis from getting worse is therefore to support Ukraine. So that Ukrainians are no longer forced to flee in even greater numbers in the future.

An important measure would therefore also be a better distribution of Ukrainian refugees still to come. Instead of Brussels being preoccupied with sanctioning little Gambia, an EU migration summit should discuss how countries that have taken in only a few Ukrainians so far could make a fair contribution. Currently, Baden-Württemberg has taken in more Ukrainians than the whole of France. The Czech Republic alone has taken in more people than France, Spain and Italy combined.

One way to change this would be to support families in France, Spain, Italy and elsewhere in taking in refugees and accommodating them privately, as is already being done in Ireland and the UK, by giving them a monthly thank you payment (of around 500 euros). Germany should lobby for this, starting with the Chancellor, at the EU migration summit to launch a Europe-wide initiative of mobilising private, state-supported reception with the French President. The goal: by the end of 2023, at least as many Ukrainians should have been admitted to France, Spain, and Italy respectively (half a million) as have been admitted to the Czech Republic today. This would also relieve the burden on Germany.

A second measure: the acceleration of asylum procedures for all those who have hardly any chance of asylum anyway and whose countries of origin have an incentive to immediately take back citizens from Germany who are obliged to leave the country, such as Georgia and Moldova, due to the existing visa-free regime. Germany can also take its cue from countries like Austria. The goal: There should be hardly any asylum applications from these countries by the end of 2023. 

A third measure would be to make attractive offers to the most important transit countries at the European border, Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey, to motivate them to take back asylum seekers arriving irregularly via the Mediterranean Sea. The UNHCR could carry out the procedures for those sent back. This would reduce life-threatening irregular migration. In parallel, legal mobility and the admission of refugees through resettlement should be expanded, as envisaged in the German coalition agreement.

A vision for the future is also outlined in the coalition agreement: not only to reduce irregular migration, but also to promote legal migration. Germany should work to expand legal mobility with African countries in the framework of new migration agreements. Instead of pushing them into the asylum system, the EU should allow Ukrainians – after the end of temporary protection – to transition to full freedom of movement, as it does for people from the Western Balkans, Moldova, and Georgia. This would also be a measure against the lack of labour force (“Arbeiterlosigkeit”). More controlled and legal mobility from partner countries in Africa would make geopolitical sense and would strengthen the common interest in reducing irregular migration in return.

Today, in the face of record numbers of refugees and asylum seekers in Germany and elsewhere in the EU, deportations are a very blunt instrument. If we want to solve problems, restore the rule of law at the EU’s external borders and not provide populists with further ammunition, we need migration summits that propose practicable solutions based on facts. This requires a grand coalition of reason for humane control, in Germany as well as in the EU. And no more political posturing.

‘We have to fight the forces that bring out the worst in us’

Viktor Orban sees him as a threat, Germany wants to implement his plans. Gerald Knaus, the man behind the Turkey deal, wants to save democracy with a humane migration policy. ‘You can change the world. I know that from experience.’

De Staandard

By Kasper Goethals

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Gerald Knaus at SPÖ party retreat, January 2023.

This is an English translation from the original Dutch:

‘We moeten vechten tegen de krachten die het slechtste in ons naar boven halen’

One afternoon in late November last year, Gerald Knaus walks into Cyprus’ interior ministry. It is warm, a tropical sea breeze blows through the open door. No one asks the Austrian for his passport or searches his bags. A single guard nods politely. “Such a thing is only possible in a safe country,” muses the migration expert. “But this was not always so obvious here. In the late 1950s, the British occupiers tortured and executed young men who rebelled.”

In the entrance hall of the ministry, a screen hangs with images of asylum seekers and refugee camps. Knaus looks at it for a while. “Cyprus is experiencing the biggest asylum crisis in Europe,” says a female voice. “Every year the number of stranded people on the island increases. The Republic offers these people shelter and food, but the situation is unsustainable. Six per cent of the population is now made up of asylum seekers.”

Knaus leafs through his notes. “Applied to Germany, those percentages would amount to six million asylum applications in five years. Whereas Germany ‘only’ had 720,000 asylum applications to process in the record year 2016. If nothing is done, we will see the same harrowing scenes here as on the Greek islands. Everyone knows this is unsustainable. The only question is: what are we going to do about it?”

With the minister of interior in Nicosia

Asylum seekers in Cyprus have discovered the only safe route to the European Union. They come from all over the world with student visas to the Turkish part of the island. Then they walk on foot to the European part, or hitch a ride in the boot of a smuggler for a small fee. A wall or border fence is unthinkable, as Cyprus does not recognise the Turkish occupied territories and advocates for the unification of the island. Illegal pushbacks, as in the rest of Europe, are therefore impossible. Knaus, upbeat: “Cyprus must therefore look for a way to limit migration without using violence. This offers a unique opportunity to show that things can be done differently.”

Orban got it right

Gerald Knaus has been fighting for democracy and peace in Europe for 30 years. His close friend Rory Stewart, the former British development secretary with whom Knaus wrote a book on military interventions in Bosnia and Afghanistan, calls him a “deeply original thinker”. “Gerald believes in ‘principled pragmatism’. He has an unwavering belief in man’s ability to change things. And he has proven many times that he can,” Stewart says on the phone. “Gerald belongs to a small group of people actively fighting for the survival of European democracy. With great optimism, he throws himself into challenges that others see as frustrating or unachievable.”

Co-authors of Can Intervention Work (2011)

To the wider public, Knaus is best known as the architect of the controversial March 2016 refugee deal with Turkey. Under the terms of the deal, it was agreed that people arriving by boat on the Greek islands should be ‘processed’ in Greece and sent back to Turkey. For refugees sent back, the EU offered protection to Syrian refugees from Turkey. In addition, the country received billions of euros meant for hosting refugees.

But it turned out differently. After the deal, the number of boat refugees fell by 97 per cent. The number of death by drowning dropped from 1,150 in 2015 to 130 in the two years following the deal. But the practical implementation ended in a fiasco. Thousands of refugees were trapped for years in wretched camps on the Greek islands. According to the United Nations, the deal was “possibly illegal” because money was paid to Turkey to take back refugees. Amnesty spoke of “madness” and of “a dark day for Europe”.

Knaus still stands by his proposal. He calls the criticism from NGOs “cynical”. According to him, they did not put forward any concrete alternatives, even though it was an important social problem. The camps on Lesbos were terrible, he agrees, but if the agreement would have been implemented correctly, these would not have emerged. “Massive uncontrolled migration as we experienced in 2015 is disruptive. When the population believes there is no plan at all, a sense of loss of control takes over. That is fertile ground for those who bring out the worst in people.”

According to Knaus, the extreme right understood this well. “It is shocking to re-read Viktor Orban’s speeches from that period. ‘In a few years, everyone will follow me,’ the Hungarian prime minister said. And in this, Orban has been proven right. Hungarian-style pushbacks have become the norm everywhere. Greece, Croatia, Poland, Bulgaria, you name it: everywhere migrants are kidnapped and thrown back across the border without accepting an asylum claim. It is wrong simply to accept that there is no alternative to this. Cooperation with countries of origin, but also with countries like Turkey, would be a logical solution.”

We are slipping

The morning after talking to the minister, Knaus sits in a café in the buffer zone between northern and southern Cyprus. The buildings are perforated with bullet holes. There are sandbags and checkpoints. Further away, UN soldiers in uniform drink their cappuccino. “The minister is interested in our proposal,” says Knaus. He advocates agreements with African countries so that they take back rejected asylum seekers. In exchange, there should be more legal migration and possibly even visa-free travel. Visa-free travel for Africans seems like a policy proposal doomed to failure, but Knaus is convinced it can be done. “We achieved things in the past decades that everyone thought were impossible.”

In Pyla, a mixed village inhabited by Greek and Turkish cypriots in the UN administered buffer zone. Photo: Kristof Bender/ESI

For Knaus and his associates in the small think tank European Stability Initiative (ESI), migration is just one priority. “We want a Europe capable of defending its democratic institutions and human rights standards against illiberal forces,” ESI’s website reads. “The fight for a humane migration policy is crucial because democracy is always tested hardest in prisons and at borders,” says Knaus. “There, people are tempted to commit human rights violations that can even be popular with the general public. It will not do to complacently sit back and blindly rely on our ‘strong institutions’. There is no guarantee that they will last, if we do not fight for them.”

Our institutions are already beginning to slip dangerously, the Austrian believes. He gives the example of pushbacks in Croatia. “All independent observers – the Council of Europe, journalists, NGOs, academics – noted that Croatia is carrying out pushbacks. Only the EU did not, because otherwise Croatia could not join the Schengen zone. In its ‘rigorous check’, the EU could not find ‘any evidence’ of pushbacks. That is like claiming that black is white and rain is sunshine. Such falsity is dangerous. When words no longer mean anything, the rule of law and democracy are worthless.”

Headscarves and pop music

It is getting late; we return to the centre of Nicosia. Knaus shows me across the dimly lit squares and through a maze of barbed wire and alleys. Our wheeled suitcases thunder through the deserted city with a hellish noise. “This is where the unaccompanied minors are,” he points out. A group of teenagers from West Africa look suspiciously as we pass. “This is where pregnant women and other vulnerable asylum seekers end up.” He keeps pointing and hurriedly shuffling around. “There is the church where Pope Francis prayed when he came to Cyprus to release asylum seekers stuck in no-man’s land and take them to the Vatican. It is also the office of Caritas.”

Gerald Knaus on “Cyprus, Germany & the Future of European Refugee Policy” in October 2022. Screenshot: FES

The main shopping street runs straight up to the Turkish half of the town. We can get through easily with our passports. Across, you enter a different world. The narrow streets are lined with peddlers selling chestnuts, pomegranates, and watermelons. Shops sell Turkish fruit, dürüms and Ottoman souvenirs. Everywhere you look, you see Africans. All of them have come here on student visas. Some to study, but also many with the plan to go over to the European side. In recent years, all sorts of shady ‘educational institutions’ have been popping up, which seem to be mainly concerned with organising migration. The largest number of asylum seekers in Cyprus now come from Nigeria, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Knaus orders a Turkish pizza and sends a photo of the food to his daughters, who grew up in Turkey. It is indicative of his optimism, says his friend Stewart, that they went to Turkish schools. “Most of us wouldn’t dare.” Knaus doesn’t understand the doubt. “For them it’s normal, classmates who wear a headscarf when in the mosque and who like pop music. The daughters all learned Turkish.”

Along the way through Europe and Turkey, Knaus says he has gained a better understanding of human nature. “All the cities I lived in – Istanbul, Sarajevo, Sofia, Chernivtsi and Berlin – experienced ethnic cleansing in the last century. That is humbling. We have no different biology or psychology from that of our ancestors. Nothing intrinsic in us, no matter how much we would like to believe it, prevents us, or our children, from making the same mistakes. We have to fight the forces that bring out the worst in us.”

Great Europeans

Knaus is the grandson of a woman from Mariupol who was taken to Germany and was shot dead by the Soviets there in 1945. That is all he knows about her. His mother was stateless for 10 years after that and grew up in Austria, in hiding. The Soviets came looking for her twice.

Gottlieb Knaus in Siberia

Both of Knaus’ grandfathers fought for Austria-Hungary during World War I, but on two different fronts. Gottlieb Knaus was soon, in 1914, captured by the Russians in the east. He spent 40 months in Siberia. The other, Alfons Schwärzler, fought against the Italians in the Alps and almost died in an avalanche. He was caught at the end of the war and taken to an Italian penal camp “where there was nothing to eat except thin rice soup”.

Prisoner of war after World War I

A family history of World War I – and a meaningless war

When Knaus went to study at Oxford, in 1988, a rare period of optimism began. The Berlin Wall fell, the Cold War ended. Knaus organised debates on “why Europe has more to gain from political union” and discovered ‘the great Europeans’ like Jean Monnet, who had “pulled the continent out of an endless spiral of violence”. To pay for his studies, Knaus was a tour guide to communist Albania, Yemen and former Yugoslavia. “I had never been to those countries myself, I only knew them from books, but afterwards the groups were always happy,” he laughs.

Knaus says he saw then a “glimpse of a different Europe, connected and free”, but things soon turned dark. He avidly read the diaries of imprisoned Czech dissident Vaclav Havel, who said that “hope is not the belief that things will get better, but the belief that what you are doing is right”. From Havel, he learned that a humane society is always fragile and yet possible. It fuelled his optimism, but he also saw too much violence to believe in Francis Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’. “I was in Zagreb after the first bombings. I saw the bridge in Mostar and the mosque in Banja Luka that had been blown up. In Albania, I saw museums cutting out murdered dissidents from photographs, as if they had never existed. It was a period of uproar, tragedy, and virulent, deadly nationalism. No one comes out of that naïve.”

Yet friends mostly remember his unflappable progress optimism. “He is fantastic,” Bulgarian philosopher Ivan Krastev says via email. The two met in Sofia, where Knaus came to teach for a time after his studies. They fought together for Bulgaria’s accession to the EU. “He combines enthusiasm about new ideas with great intellectual seriousness. It is always a pleasure to discuss with him.”

Bulgarien (1996)

However, Krastev feels that Knaus’ struggles belong to the past. “He is a product of the 1990s, an exceptional era that will never come back. As long as we stay on course, we will achieve what we want, he thinks. Whereas I think we are in a different situation that requires a different approach.”

The marginal becomes mainstream

Knaus dismisses this. “History does not move in one direction. Both good and bad ideas can shape it.’ He tells of a lanky boy who was a year higher at Oxford. That boy, Jacob Rees-Mogg, was already fiercely opposed to the idea of European integration. “In 2016, the same Rees-Mogg campaigned for Brexit and he won. As students, many of us found his ideas ridiculous, outdated, marginal. It was an important lesson. Rees-Mogg persevered and was pragmatic. He rose to power, hammering his point endlessly. What was marginal became mainstream.”

But also “positive ideas from the margins” can become mainstream in this way, says Knaus. “After the 1990s, we campaigned for the lifting of the visa requirement for Albania and other Balkan countries.” At that time, Albanians were still dying at sea, during illegal crossings to the Italian Bari. “Everyone said it was impossible. Albania was seen as criminal, clichés about blood feuds and their “violent nature” were widespread. Nevertheless, after years of campaigning with the ministers of the interior in Europe, a breakthrough was achieved. After that it went fast. Today, citizens of countries such as Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia travel visa-free to the Schengen zone. They do not die in the refrigerator compartments of trucks or on old fishing boats.”

People are the stories they tell themselves, and each other, Knaus believes. He takes me to a village in the buffer zone of Cyprus. There is a mosque and a church. Cigarettes are sold at Turkish prices and shopkeepers sell banned products under the counter. In the middle of the village, an American runs a restaurant on two floors. Turkish food and Turkish beer are served at the top. At the bottom, guests eat and drink Greek food. The staff consists of a Syrian, an Iranian and an Iraqi. Knaus: ‘Take away the history here and this looks like an ordinary village, where the differences between people are of secondary importance. But this is not an ordinary village and you can’t just take away the history. If a murder is committed here, the United Nations Peacekeepers must come and address it.”

The German road

In Cyprus, Knaus promises everyone that he will urge the German government to find a solution to their problems soon. He seems firmly convinced that it will work. “There is good news coming,” he says. What Knaus does not say at that time is that he received a phone call a week earlier from the cabinet of the German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock (Greens). He was asked whether he was interested to become the first special envoy for German migration policy. Only in the week after Christmas does Der Spiegel release the story.

Knaus declined the top spot. The job goes – much to Knaus’ satisfaction – to the liberal politician Joachim Stamp. “It is better that a politician does that job,” Knaus says on the phone that week. “I can do more from the sidelines. Stamp and I are in close contact. He might soon start the first negotiations with The Gambia and other African countries. He knows that there is no time to lose.’ Knaus emphasizes what that means: ‘Germany is going ahead, along with other countries that still believe in humane solutions in the fight against irregular migration.’

During a car ride from Nicosia to Larnaca, I overhear Knaus discussing matters with Adrian Praetorius, the German liaison officer in Greece in the field of migration. Praetorius does not want to be quoted, but his story agrees with what Knaus tells me. The German government wants an alternative to the pushbacks. Migration agreements with Africa are at the top of the list of priorities. Germany wants to find humane solutions to the migration crisis in voluntary coalitions with other countries, such as Switzerland and Austria. “In this way, someone like Viktor Orban cannot delay or stop initiatives at European level,” says Knaus.

Reverse Bataclan

After New Year, Knaus invites me to Klagenfurt, an Alpine town in southern Austria. The leadership of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) is meeting here to discuss migration. In the polls, the SPÖ is in a neck-and-neck race with the far-right FPÖ. As in Belgium, the number of asylum applications is historically high and is again becoming a key election issue.

If she can find a solution to this issue, SPÖ president Pamela Rendi-Wagner stands a good chance of becoming Chancellor in 2024. She has invited Knaus to explain his ideas on migration. “A great opportunity to pull Austria away from Orban’s camp,” says Knaus. “Under the previous Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, that path was widely pursued. There are also forces in that direction among the Social Democrats.”

Gerald Knaus and Pamela Rendi-Wagner, possibly Austria’s new chancellor. ‘A great opportunity to pull that country away from Orban’s camp,’ says Knaus.

On the scenic train ride from Vienna to Klagenfurt, straight through the mountains, Knaus says Orban attacked him again over Christmas via the newspapers he controls. Since Knaus called him “the most dangerous man in the European Union” in 2015 and called for the suspension of EU subsidies to Hungary, state-run newspapers have been constantly attacking him. Knaus is described as a key figure in a global conspiracy to undermine Hungary. Knaus: “the most dangerous thing about Orban is not the plots, but rather his narrative of control and romanticism combined with language reminiscent of Europe’s darkest days.”

Conspiracy theories in Hungary

Knaus refers to Orban’s annual speech in Romania last summer. In it, Orban quoted The Army Camp of Saints, a 1973 book by French writer Jean Raspail. “I have read that book with horror. It is a far-right fever dream about a group of wild people from India overrunning France with a stolen fishing fleet. The book glorifies an armed response to migration and calls for genocide,” says Knaus. “Orban knows very well why he is quoting Raspail. He wants to mainstream the idea of migration as organised ‘repopulation’ and a ‘culture war.’”

This is precisely why the ideas of writers like Michel Houellebecq are also problematic, Knaus believes. “They poison the mainstream. Like Jacob Rees-Mogg in Britain, they nourish step by step the most inferior reflexes in human nature until they become widespread and common. This is not purely literary.” In media interviews, meanwhile, Houellebecq calls on French Muslims to emigrate, otherwise they will face a race war – ‘a reverse Bataclan’. “That rhetoric is not innocent. When Orban says: ‘The war starts at the border’, he means: we must also wage it in the cities.”

Finishing up in Klagenfurt

In Klagenfurt, Knaus debates behind closed doors with the party leadership of the Austrian Social Democrats. Afterwards, I speak briefly with chairman Rendi-Wagner. “I have known Knaus for three years and we have been consulting for longer. We share a belief in political policy based on facts. Especially on sensitive issues like migration. Knaus is not a theorist, but someone who provides us with practical, feasible solutions.” Asked about Orban, she says: “I believe in a politics of concrete European solutions, not hollow promises from populists. Not all 27 member states have to join right away. If it works, the rest will follow.”

The next morning, I walk with Knaus around Wörthersee, Klagenfurt’s big lake. Knaus talks about the rule of law in Poland, a topic on which for years he has also been lobbying for, and about his hope that Rendi-Wagner will soon cite his proposal for a Bodensee-Allianz (a coalition of Austria with Switzerland and Germany) in her press conference. He talks about his time as a university lecturer in the Ukrainian town of Chernivtsi in 1993 and how the war threatened his friends there now. He recalls his memories of the elderly Jewish women he met then, who had miraculously survived the Holocaust.


Knaus: “You know who I would love to debate with?” He smiles. “Rutger Bregman. I’ve read his book ‘Humankind’ twice to see how he argues. It is very compelling, as a reader you gradually become captivated by his argument. There is only one problem: none of it makes any sense at all. Everything is pushed into the same mould to make a point that does not stand the test of reality. It is almost like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who sees the dangers of Islam everywhere and skilfully ignores all positive information about integration.”

Bregman clearly touches a nerve with Knaus. “The point that people are going to help each other more in a city that is being bombed is all well and good. But meanwhile, a city is still being bombed. That, too, is something being done by people. So are they virtuous?” The Austrian peered across the lake. “Here in Carinthia, the far-right receives the highest vote-share compared to anywhere in the whole country. They appeal to human nature, just as much as someone who calls for empathy and pity. This is precisely why the work is never over.”

In the hotel lift, Knaus tries in vain to load a web page on his phone. No internet. “What did she say? Did she adopt our idea?” Then his face brightens. “This gives hope for Cyprus. With this, we can claw further towards a different migration policy.”

He shows the title of the article: “Rendi-Wagner will ‘Bodensee-Allianz’ gegen illegale Migration”. 

5 miliardów na ratowanie UE – Polska, pingwiny i praworządność


6 sierpnia 2021 r.

Rządy prawa wymagają, aby „nawet  Ci, którzy stoją na straży prawa, prawa tego przestrzegali (…) Jeśli znęcasz się nad pingwinem w londyńskim zoo, nawet jeśli jesteś arcybiskupem Londynu, nie ominie cię kara”      

Tom Bingham, Rządy prawa

Drodzy przyjaciele,

15 lipca Trybunał Sprawiedliwości Unii Europejskiej (TSUE) w Luksemburgu wydał historyczny wyrok. Odniósł się on do „strukturalnego załamania” polskiego sądownictwa, które

„nie pozwala na zachowanie widocznych oznak niezawisłości i bezstronności sądownictwa oraz na utrzymanie zaufania, jakie sądy powinny budzić w społeczeństwie demokratycznym, ani też na wykluczenie w przekonaniu jednostek wszelkiej uzasadnionej wątpliwości co do niepodatności na czynniki zewnętrzne”.

TSUE potwierdził to, co wielu, w tym ESI, opisywało w licznych szczegółowych raportach: Sytuacja w Polsce stała się dziś swego rodzaju testem, czy możliwe jest stworzenie systemu sprawiedliwości w państwie członkowskim UE bez niezawisłych sądów, gdzie sędziowie mogą być nagradzani i karani przez rząd za treść orzeczeń sądowych.

W takiej sytuacji prawo do rzetelnego procesu sądowego nie może być już zagwarantowane. Zanika także wtedy zaufanie konieczne, aby sądy w innych państwach członkowskich UE akceptowały wyroki polskich sądów. Gdy, jak ma to miejsce w Polsce, sędziowie krajowi karani są za zwracanie się do TSUE o wskazówki dotyczące stosowania prawa UE, niszczony jest europejski system prawny. W całej UE sądy krajowe szanują i wykonują wyroki sądów innych państw członkowskich, niezależnie od tego, czy dotyczą one sporów handlowych, europejskiego nakazu aresztowania czy opieki nad dzieckiem. To zaufanie między sądami umożliwia „swobodny przepływ orzeczeń sądowych”. Bez takiego zaufania nie byłoby możliwe ani utworzenie jednolitego rynku, ani zniesienie granic wewnętrznych. Koen Lenaerts, 66-letni belgijski prezes TSUE, na początku 2020 r. ujął to dosadnie: „bez niezależności sądów środki ochrony prawnej wywodzące się z prawa UE stają się papierowym tygrysem”. Dialog między niezależnymi sądami krajowymi a TSUE jest, zdaniem Lenaertsa, „filarem unijnego systemu ochrony sądowej”. A bez takich filarów budynki zwyczajnie się walą.

Do niedawna, pisze Lenaert, zakładano, że po przystąpieniu do UE państwa „pozostaną zaangażowane w obronę liberalnej demokracji, praw podstawowych i rządów prawa, a nie ludzi. Ostatnie wydarzenia pokazują, że założenie to nie może być po prostu uznane za pewnik”.

Walka o praworządność

Podobnego kryzysu nie było też nigdzie indziej w UE, w tym na Węgrzech, z którymi Polska jest często „leniwie” porównywana. Ponadto, żaden minister sprawiedliwości w UE nigdy nie skupił w swoich rękach tyle władzy, co polski Zbigniew Ziobro, architekt i największy beneficjent rozkładu rządów prawa w swoim kraju.

Po wyroku TSUE Ziobro błyskawicznie zadeklarował, że woli z nim walczyć i ignorować europejskie traktaty, niż zrezygnować z posiadenej przez siebie kontroli. Jak to ujął 21 lipca, ostatnie orzeczenia TSUE „nie są wiążące dla polskich władz, które działają w oparciu o polską konstytucję. Poddanie się tym orzeczeniom byłoby rażąco niezgodne z prawem”. Naiwnością jest oczekiwać, że polski rząd z Ziobro jako ministrem będzie realizował wyroki.

Równie nierozsądne jest przekonanie, że TSUE zaakceptuje kilka kosmetycznych poprawek lub „jakieś porozumienie”, jak ostatnio sugerował polski premier. Kosmetyczne kroki i pozorne kompromisy nie przywrócą zaufania do niezależności polskich sądów i nie rozwiążą głębokich problemów, na które zwrócono uwagę w tym wyroku.

Sąd najwyższy Unii Europejskiej od lat przygotowywał się do tego starcia. Rozwinął swoją „prawną amunicję” w pierwszych wyrokach dotyczących niezależności sędziowskiej wydawanych od lutego 2018 r. Jak opisali dwaj czołowi eksperci, TSUE zbudował „cegła po cegle, odnowiony zestaw zasad i standardów, aby pomóc instytucjom UE i sądom krajowym skuteczniej bronić praworządności”. Wyrok TSUE z 15 lipca jasno określa wymagania. Zawarto w nim cztery kluczowe punkty:

Punkt 1: Praworządność jest podstawową wartością, wyrażoną w art. 19 Traktatu o Unii Europejskiej.

 „Państwo członkowskie nie może zatem zmienić swojego ustawodawstwa w sposób prowadzący do osłabienia ochrony wartości państwa prawnego, której konkretny wyraz daje w szczególności art. 19 Traktatu o Unii Europejskiej”.

Punkt 2: Niezależne sądy mają fundamentalne znaczenie dla praworządności.

”Wymóg niezawisłości sędziowskiej, stanowiącej integralny element sądzenia, wchodzi w zakres istoty prawa do skutecznej ochrony sądowej oraz prawa podstawowego do rzetelnego procesu sądowego, które to prawo ma fundamentalne znaczenie jako gwarancja ochrony wszystkich praw, jakie podmioty prawa wywodzą z prawa Unii”.

Punkt 3: Przepisy regulujące działalność sądów muszą rozwiewać wszelkie uzasadnione wątpliwości co do ich niezawisłości:

 „gwarancje niezawisłości i bezstronności oznaczają, że muszą istnieć zasady, w szczególności co do składu organu, powoływania jego członków, okresu trwania ich kadencji oraz powodów ich wyłączania lub odwołania, pozwalające wykluczyć, w przekonaniu jednostek, wszelką uzasadnioną wątpliwość co do niepodatności tego organu na czynniki zewnętrzne oraz jego neutralności względem ścierających się przed nimi interesów”.

Punkt 4: Systemy dyscyplinarne NIE mogą być wykorzystywane do kontrolowania treści orzeczeń.

„Jeżeli chodzi dokładniej o przepisy regulujące system odpowiedzialności dyscyplinarnej sędziów…system ten będzie przewidywał niezbędne gwarancje w celu uniknięcia ryzyka wykorzystywania takiego systemu jako narzędzia politycznej kontroli treści orzeczeń sądowych”.

TSUE sformułował również pięć konkretnych wymogów:

Wymóg   1: zagwarantować niezależność nowej izby dyscyplinarnej

Wymóg 2: zaprzestać nadużywania procedur dyscyplinarnych do kontrolowania treści orzeczeń sądowych

Wymóg  3: stworzyć solidny i przewidywalny system dyscyplinarny

Wymóg 4: zaprzestać nadużywania tego systemu do nękania sędziów nieprzychylnych Ministerstwu Sprawiedliwości

Wymóg 5: zaprzestać nacisków na sędziów, aby nie kierowali pytań do TSUE (w celu uzyskania „orzeczeń wstępnych”)

Dlaczego nie będzie kompromisu

Determinacja polskiego rządu, by wszelkimi dostępnymi środkami podporządkować sobie sądownictwo, nie ulega już wątpliwości. A jednak niektórzy obserwatorzy wciąż nie potrafią zrozumieć strategii polskiego rządu, mimo że stosuje ją już od dłuższego czasu.

Mówiący biegle po angielsku były bankier Mateusz Morawiecki, który powołany został na urząd w grudniu 2017 roku, jest mistrzem w dyplomatycznej grze polegającej na udawaniu negocjacji bez czynienia ustępstw w jakiejkolwiek kwestii merytorycznej. W styczniu 2018 roku Morawiecki spotkał się z ówczesnym przewodniczącym Komisji Europejskiej Jean Claude’em Junckerem. Juncker zadeklarował, że cieszy się na „postępy, które mają nadejść do końca lutego”. 14 lutego 2018 roku Juncker powtórzył: „Myślę, że jest duża szansa, że polskie stanowisko zbliży się do naszego”.

Nie było żadnego postępu. Nie rozwiązano żadnych problemów. Nowy system dyscyplinarny służący kontrolowaniu sędziów i podważaniu podziału władzy konstruowany był w oszałamiającym tempie. 

22 marca 2018 r. polski premier stwierdził dosadnie: „Istota, najważniejsze elementy reformy pozostają nietknięte. Jednocześnie przyglądamy się temu, co pozwoliłoby drugiej stronie powiedzieć: O, można osiągnąć kompromis z Polską”.  3 kwietnia 2018 roku Juncker ogłosił, że na obietnice ustępstw ze strony polskiego rządu patrzy „z dużą dozą sympatii”. Polski sekretarz stanu do spraw UE powiedział 3 kwietnia 2018 r. niemieckiemu radiu: „Czynimy ustępstwa dotyczące kwestii, które nie odgrywają żadnej centralnej roli w systemie sądownictwa”.

Na początku maja 2018 roku Financial Times i inne międzynarodowe media napisały, że „Polska idzie z UE na kolejne ustępstwa w sprawie reform sądowych”. Powoływały się na „ustępstwa” przedstawione przez polski rząd 22 marca. Żadnych ustępstw nie było. Przyznał to wówczas minister spraw zagranicznych Jacek Czaputowicz, tłumacząc 4 maja 2018 r.: „Chcemy pokazać pewną otwartość na żądania Komisji, żeby zamknąć tę sprawę i zająć się innymi ważnymi sprawami europejskimi, jak budżet”. A w przemówieniu wygłoszonym 11 listopada 2019 r. prezydent Andrzej Duda zaatakował (wówczas jeszcze) krytycznych sędziów Sądu Najwyższego, po czym oświadczył: „Trzeba spokojnie zaczekać, aż odejdą”.

Dokładnie tak się stało. W efekcie, gdy w zeszłym miesiącu przyszło TSUE orzeczenie, związane z:

– Krajową Radą Sądownictwa, odpowiedzialną za nominowanie sędziów, składającą się z 25 osób, z których zdecydowana większość była członkami partii rządzącej lub została przez nią mianowana; oraz

– system dyscyplinarny, w którym Minister Sprawiedliwości bezpośrednio lub pośrednio mianuje każdą osobę zaangażowaną w dochodzenie, ściganie i orzekanie w sprawach dyscyplinarnych przeciwko sędziom.

Istnieje rozwiązanie — sankcja w wysokości 5 mld euro

Negocjacje nie przyniosą rezultatów, nie są też konieczne. UE nie jest bezsilna: same traktaty oferują rozwiązanie.

20 lipca wiceprzewodnicząca Komisji Europejskiej Vera Jourova, gotowa użyć wszelkich środków, aby wyrok TSUE został wykonany, postawiła ultimatum: „wystąpimy o sankcje finansowe, jeśli Polska nie naprawi sytuacji do 16 sierpnia. Prawa obywateli i przedsiębiorstw w UE muszą być chronione w taki sam sposób we wszystkich państwach członkowskich. W tej sprawie nie może być kompromisu”.

Możliwość nakładania sankcji finansowych w przypadku niewykonania wyroków TSUE istnieje od 1993 roku. TSUE nałożył takie sankcje 37 razy.

Traktaty europejskie dają Komisji prawo do zaproponowania dowolnych sankcji finansowych. Stanowią one także, że TSUE ma ostatnie słowo co do wysokości grzywny, niezależnie od tego, jaką kwotę uzna za stosowną. Wysokość tych sankcji, ustalanych na podstawie wzoru opracowanego przez Komisję w 2005 r. była zazwyczaj skromna. Wzór ten nie jest wiążący, a traktat UE nie określa górnej granicy możliwych grzywien. Zgodnie z wytycznymi Komisji należy dążyć do tego, aby „sama kara stanowiła czynnik odstraszający od dalszego naruszania przepisów”. Przewidziana jest również możliwość nakładania wyjątkowo wysokich grzywien „w uzasadnionych przypadkach”.

Nigdy wcześniej nie było sprawy o naruszenie traktatów o podobnym znaczeniu dla systemu prawnego UE i dla przetrwania unijnej praworządności. Uzasadnia to nałożenie sankcji niespotykanej w historii UE. Komisja Europejska i TSUE mogłyby to uczynić w oparciu o  Zasadę z Artykułu 19 TEU:

„Za każdym razem, gdy TSUE stwierdzi, że gwarantowane przez artykuł 19 Traktatu UE prawo do „skutecznej ochrony prawnej” w sądach krajowych jest naruszone, a państwo członkowskie odmawia przy tym usunięcia uchybienia, nakładana jest sankcja finansowa w wysokości co najmniej 1 procent PKB tego kraju rocznie”.

W przypadku Polski, której PKB wynosi ok. 520 mld euro, oznaczałoby to karę w wysokości ok. 5,2 mld euro rocznie. Komisja powinna zatem zaproponować grzywnę, która następnie nałożona zostanie przez TSUE. Kara finansowa w wysokości 880 mln euro powinna być wznawiana co dwa miesiące do czasu wykonania przez rząd polski orzeczenia z 15 lipca. Jeśli polski rząd zobowiąże się do pełnego wdrożenia tego wyroku do 16 sierpnia i porzuci dążenie do kontrolowania swoich sędziów, sankcji finansowych nie będzie.

Punkt zwrotny dla Europy

Jest to ogromna szansa zarówno dla Polski, jak i dla UE. Wdrożenie wyroku TSUE z 15 lipca skutecznie oddaliłoby perspektywę prawnego Polexitu i przywróciłoby zaufanie do polskich sądów w całej UE.

Egzekwowanie zasady Artykułu 19 wzmocniłoby system prawny UE dla następnych pokoleń. Żadne państwo członkowskie UE nie powinno już nigdy ulec pokusie zniszczenia niezależności swoich sądów. Żadne państwo nie powinno też nigdy odważyć na zignorowanie wyroków TSUE w tak fundamentalnej sprawie. Byłby to pozytywny punkt zwrotny w historii Unii. Jak to ujął Koen Lenaerts na początku 2020 roku:

„Dziś Europejczycy stoją przed definiującym momentem w historii integracji […] zasada niezawisłości sądów musi zostać zachowana, aby UE pozostała „Unią demokracji”, „Unią praw” i „Unią sprawiedliwości”. Jeśli następne pokolenie Europejczyków ma odkrywać nowe horyzonty dla coraz bardziej zintegrowanej Unii, w której obywatele mogą nadal korzystać ze sfery wolności osobistej wolnej od ingerencji publicznych, integracja poprzez rządy prawa jest jedyną drogą naprzód”.

Z poważaniem,

Gerald Knaus

Twitter: @rumeliobserver

Artykuł 19 ust. 1:

„Trybunał Sprawiedliwości Unii Europejskiej obejmuje Trybunał Sprawiedliwości, Sąd i sądy wyspecjalizowane. Czuwa on nad wykładnią i stosowaniem traktatów w poszanowaniu prawa.

Państwa członkowskie zapewniają środki odwoławcze wystarczające do zapewnienia skutecznej ochrony prawnej w dziedzinach objętych prawem Unii”.

Warto przeczytać:

Wyrok TSUE w sprawie Polski z 15 lipca 2021

Mocny esej Koena Lenaertsa o tym, co jest stawką: Nowe horyzonty dla praworządności w UE (2020)

Doskonały przegląd ostatnich wydarzeń autorstwa dwóch czołowych ekspertów, Laurenta Pecha i Dimitry’ego Kochenova: Respect for the Rule of Law in the Case Law of the European Court of Justice: A Casebook Overview, maj 2021 r.

Przeczytaj także Laurent Pech, Patryk Wachowiec i Dariusz Mazur: Poland’s Rule of Law Breakdown: Pięcioletnia ocena (braku)działań UE, 2021

Klasyka – lektura obowiązkowa: Tom Bingham, The Rule of Law, 2011

5 Milliarden zur Rettung der EU – Polen, Pinguine und der Rechtsstaat

ESI Newsletter 8/2021

6. August 2021

„Ein Rechtsstaat verlangt, dass auch die Hüter des Gesetzes das Gesetz befolgen… Auch der Erzbischof von London entgeht der Strafverfolgung nicht, wenn er im Londoner Zoo einen Pinguin misshandelt.“

Tom Bingham, The Rule of Law

Liebe Freunde,

Am 15. Juli fällte der Europäische Gerichtshof  (EuGH) in Luxemburg ein historisches Urteil. Es verweist auf einen „strukturellen Bruch“ der polnischen Justiz,

„der es nicht mehr erlaube, den Eindruck der Unabhängigkeit und Unparteilichkeit der Justiz und das Vertrauen zu wahren, das die Gerichte in einer demokratischen Gesellschaft schaffen müssten, und jeden berechtigten Zweifel der Rechtsunterworfenen… auszuräumen.“

Der EuGH bestätigte, was viele, darunter auch ESI, beschrieben haben: das heutige Polen ist ein Experiment dafür, ob es möglich ist, in einem EU-Mitgliedsstaat ein Justizsystem ohne unabhängige Gerichte zu schaffen. Ein System, in dem Richter von der Regierung für den Inhalt ihrer Urteile belohnt oder auch bestraft werden können.

Unter derartigen Umständen ist das Recht auf ein faires Verfahren nicht mehr gewährleistet. Das Vertrauen von Gerichten anderer EU-Mitgliedstaaten, das nötig ist, um  polnische Gerichtsurteile zu akzeptieren, schwindet. Wenn nationale Richter dafür bestraft werden, wie es in Polen derzeit passiert, dass sie sich an den EuGH wenden, um Orientierungshilfe bei der Anwendung von EU-Recht zu bekommen, bricht das europäische Rechtssystem zusammen.

EU-weit erkennen nationale Gerichte die Urteile von Gerichten anderer Mitgliedstaaten an und setzen diese um, ob bei Handelsstreitigkeiten, Europäischen Haftbefehlen oder beim Sorgerecht für Kinder. Dieses gegenseitige Vertrauen der Gerichte ermöglicht den „freien Verkehr gerichtlicher Entscheidungen“. Ohne solch ein Vertrauen wäre weder die Schaffung eines Binnenmarktes noch die Aufhebung der Binnengrenzen möglich gewesen. Das machte der 66-jährige Belgier Koen Lenaerts, Präsident des EuGH, Anfang 2020 klar: „Ohne richterliche Unabhängigkeit werden Rechtsmittel auf Grundlage des EU-Rechts zu einem Papiertiger.“ Der Dialog zwischen unabhängigen nationalen Gerichten und dem EuGH, so Lenaerts, ist „der Schlussstein des EU-Rechtsschutzsystems“. Und ohne Schlussstein stürzen Gebäude ein.

Bis vor kurzem ging man laut Lenaerts davon aus, dass sich Staaten durch ihren Beitritt zur EU „dazu verpflichten, die liberale Demokratie, ihre Grundrechte, sowie die Hoheit von Gesetzen, und nicht von Personen, zu verteidigen. Die jüngsten Entwicklungen zeigen, dass diese Annahme nicht einfach als selbstverständlich angesehen werden kann.”

Der Kampf um die Rechtsstaatlichkeit

Nirgendwo in der EU gab es einen vergleichbaren Zusammenbruch. Auch nicht in Ungarn, das in diesem Zusammenhang fälschlicherweise gern mit Polen in einem Atemzug genannt wird. Kein anderer Justizminister in der EU genießt annähernd so viel Macht wie Polens Zbigniew Ziobro, Architekt und größter Nutznießer des Zusammenbruchs des Rechtsstaates in seinem Land.

Ziobro erklärte am 21. Juli, die jüngsten EuGH-Urteile „sind für polnischen Behörden, die auf der Grundlage der polnischen Verfassung handeln, nicht bindend. Sich dieser Urteile zu unterwerfen wäre offenkundig rechtswidrig.“ Ziobro würde lieber den EuGH bekämpfen und europäische Verträge ignorieren als Kontrolle abzugeben. Es wäre naiv zu glauben, dass eine polnische Regierung mit ihm als Minister das Urteil des EuGH umsetzen wird.

NEU Inside the system Ziobro built

ESI Hintergrundpapier (auf Englisch)

Ebenso unvernünftig wäre die Annahme, der EuGH würde ein paar oberflächliche Änderungen oder „irgendeine Einigung“ akzeptieren, wie es der polnische Premierminister kürzlich vorschlug. Belanglose Schritte und falsche Kompromisse können das Vertrauen in die Unabhängigkeit der polnischen Gerichte nicht wiederherstellen und würden auch nicht die im Urteil genannten tiefgreifenden Probleme beseitigen.

Das höchste Gericht der Europäischen Union bereitet sich seit Jahren auf diese Machtprobe vor. In seinen wegweisenden Urteilen seit Februar 2018 hat es sein rechtliches Arsenal ausgebaut. So beschrieben zwei führende Experten, wie der EuGH „Schritt für Schritt ein neues Paket von Grundsätzen und Standards geschaffen hat, um EU-Institutionen und nationalen Gerichten dabei zu helfen, die Rechtsstaatlichkeit effektiver zu schützen.“ Das EuGH-Urteil vom 15. Juli macht deutlich, was erforderlich ist und nennt vier Kernpunkte:

Punkt 1: Die Rechtsstaatlichkeit ist ein Grundwert, der in Artikel 19 des Vertrags über die Europäische Union zum Ausdruck kommt.

„Ein Mitgliedstaat darf daher seine Rechtsvorschriften nicht dergestalt ändern, dass der Schutz des Wertes der Rechtsstaatlichkeit vermindert wird, eines Wertes, der namentlich durch Artikel 19 des Vertrags über die Europäische Union konkretisiert wird.“

Punkt 2: Unabhängige Gerichte sind von zentraler Bedeutung für den Rechtsstaat.

Die Anforderung der Unabhängigkeit der Gerichte, die dem Auftrag des Richters inhärent ist, gehört zum Wesensgehalt des Rechts auf wirksamen Rechtsschutz und des Grundrechts auf ein faires Verfahren, dem als Garant für den Schutz sämtlicher dem Einzelnen aus dem Unionsrecht erwachsender Rechte…grundlegende Bedeutung zukommt.“

Punkt 3: Regeln für Gerichte müssen jeden begründeten Zweifel an ihrer Unabhängigkeit ausräumen.

„[D]ie nach dem Unionsrecht erforderliche Gewähr für Unabhängigkeit und Unparteilichkeit [setzt] voraus, dass es Regeln insbesondere für die Zusammensetzung der Einrichtung, die Ernennung, die Amtsdauer und die Gründe für Enthaltung, Ablehnung und Abberufung ihrer Mitglieder gibt, die es ermöglichen, bei den Rechtsunterworfenen jeden berechtigten Zweifel an der Unempfänglichkeit dieser Einrichtung für äußere Faktoren und an ihrer Neutralität in Bezug auf die widerstreitenden Interessen auszuräumen.“

Punkt 4: Disziplinarsysteme dürfen NICHT dazu verwendet werden, den Inhalt von Urteilen zu beeinflussen.

„Was im Einzelnen die Vorschriften der Disziplinarordnung für Richter betrifft, so verlangt die Anforderung der Unabhängigkeit, … dass die Disziplinarordnung die erforderlichen Garantien aufweist, damit jegliche Gefahr verhindert wird, dass sie als System zur politischen Kontrolle des Inhalts justizieller Entscheidungen eingesetzt wird.“

Der EuGH stellte zudem fünf konkrete Forderungen:

Forderung 1: Gewährleistung der Unabhängigkeit der neuen Disziplinarkammer in Polen.

Forderung 2: Ende des Missbrauchs von Disziplinarverfahren zur inhaltlichen Kontrolle von Urteilen.

Forderung 3: Schaffung eines robusten und vorhersehbaren Disziplinarregimes.

Forderung 4: Ende des Missbrauchs dieses Regimes, um Richter unter Druck zu setzen, die dem Justizministerium nicht gefallen.

Forderung 5: Das Erfragen von Vorentscheidungen beim EuGH muss wieder ermöglicht werden, ohne dass Richter mit Disziplinarmaßnahmen rechnen müssen.

Der Kampf hat begonnen. Europas führende Richter haben dabei das Recht und die Geschichte der europäischen Integration auf ihrer Seite.

Warum es keine Kompromisse geben wird

Die Entschlossenheit der polnischen Regierung, die Justiz mit allen verfügbaren Mitteln unter ihre Kontrolle zu bringen, steht mittlerweile außer Zweifel. Dennoch fallen manche Beobachter noch immer auf die Verneblungsstrategie der polnischen Regierung herein. Sie ist nicht neu.

Mateusz Morawiecki, der aus der Wirtschaft in die Politik wechselte, fließend Englisch spricht und im Dezember 2017 polnischer Ministerpräsident wurde, ist ein Meister dieser Diplomatie. Er gibt vor zu verhandeln, ohne inhaltlich Zugeständnisse zu machen. Im Januar 2018 traf Morawiecki den damaligen Kommissionspräsidenten Jean Claude Juncker. Juncker erklärte daraufhin, er freue sich darauf, „bis Ende Februar Fortschritte zu machen“. Am 14. Februar 2018 wiederholte Juncker: „Ich denke, die Chancen stehen gut, dass sich die polnischen Positionen auf unsere zubewegen.“

Es gab keinen Fortschritt. Keine Fehlentwicklung wurde korrigiert. Stattdessen wurde mit Hochdruck ein neues Disziplinarsystem zur Kontrolle von Richtern und zur Untergrabung der Gewaltenteilung aufgebaut.

Am 22. März 2018 äußerte sich der polnische Ministerpräsident unverblümt: „Der Kern, die wesentlichsten Elemente der Reform, bleiben unangetastet. Gleichzeitig überlegen wir, was der anderen Seite den Eindruck vermitteln würde: Oh, mit Polen kann man einen Kompromiss finden.“ Am 3. April 2018 erklärte Juncker, er sehe die Zugeständnisse der polnischen Regierung „mit Wohlwollen“. Der polnische Staatssekretär für EU-Angelegenheiten sagte am 3. April 2018 einem deutschen Radiosender: „Die Zugeständnisse machen wir in Bereichen, die keine zentrale Rolle im Justizwesen spielen.“

Anfang Mai 2018 schrieben die Financial Times und andere internationale Medien: „Polen macht der EU neue Zugeständnisse bei Rechtsreformen.“ Man las von „Zugeständnissen“, die die polnische Regierung am 22. März vorgelegt hatte. Aber es gab keine Zugeständnisse. Selbst Außenminister Jacek Czaputowicz bestätigte das indirekt, als er am 4. Mai 2018 erklärte: „Wir zeigen Offenheit gegenüber den Forderungen der Kommission, um diesen Fall abzuschließen und uns mit wichtigeren europäischen Angelegenheiten wie dem Haushalt zu befassen.“ Und in einer Rede vom 11. November 2019 griff Präsident Andrzej Duda die (damals noch) kritischen Richter des Obersten Gerichtshofs in Polen an und erklärte: „Wir werden sie aussitzen.“

Genau das ist passiert. Als der EuGH im letzten Monat sein Urteil verkündete, ging es um

  • den Nationalen Justizrat, der für die Nominierung von Richtern zuständig ist und aus 25 Personen besteht, von denen die überwiegende Mehrheit Mitglieder der Regierungspartei waren oder von ihr unter fragwürdigen Umständen ernannt worden waren; und
  • ein Disziplinarsystem, bei dem der Justizminister direkt oder indirekt jede einzelne Person ernennt, die an Ermittlungen, Anklagen und Urteilen in Disziplinarverfahren gegen Richter beteiligt ist.

 € 5 Milliarden – Sanktion als beste Lösung

Verhandlungen mit der derzeitigen Regierung werden nichts ändern und sind auch nicht notwendig. Denn die EU ist nicht machtlos und die Verträge selbst bieten einen Ausweg.

Am 20. Juli setzte Vera Jourova, Vizepräsidentin der Europäischen Kommission und fest entschlossen, das EuGH-Urteil umgesetzt zu sehen, eine Frist,: „Wir werden finanzielle Sanktionen beantragen, wenn Polen bis zum 16. August die Mängel nicht behebt. Die Rechte von EU-Bürgern und Unternehmen müssen in allen Mitgliedstaaten in gleicher Weise geschützt werden. Da kann es keine Kompromisse geben.“

Die Möglichkeit, finanzielle Sanktionen zu verhängen, wenn EuGH-Urteile nicht umgesetzt werden, besteht seit 1993. Der EuGH verhängte solche Sanktionen insgesamt 37 Mal. Laut EU-Recht kann die Kommission eine finanzielle Strafe in jeder Höhe vorschlagen. Der EuGH hat das Recht, eine entsprechende Geldbuße festzulegen, und zwar in jeder Höhe, die er für angemessen hält. Festgelegt auf Grundlage einer von der Kommission im Jahr 2005 entwickelten Formel, fiel die Höhe dieser Sanktionen bislang üblicherweise bescheiden aus. Aber diese Formel ist nicht bindend. Außerdem legt der EU-Vertrag keine Obergrenze fest. In den Leitlinien der Kommission heißt es, maßgebend für die Höhe der Sanktionen sei „die erforderliche Abschreckungswirkung, um einen erneuten Verstoß zu verhindern.“ Sie sieht außergewöhnliche Geldbußen vor, „wenn dies in Einzelfällen berechtigt erscheint und ausführlich begründet wird.“

NEU How infringement penalties are set – the case for 5 billion

ESI-Hintergrundpapier (in Englisch)

Noch nie gab es einen Vertragsverletzungsfall, der für das Rechtssystem der EU und für den Fortbestand der Rechtsstaatlichkeit von vergleichbarer Bedeutung war. Das rechtfertigt auch eine in der Geschichte der EU noch nie dagewesene Strafe. Die Kommission und der EuGH könnten sich dabei auf ein Artikel 19-Prinzip stützen:

Wann immer der EuGH feststellt, dass ein Mitgliedstaat das in Artikel 19 des EU-Vertrags garantierte Recht auf „wirksamen Rechtsschutz“ durch nationale Gerichte verletzt und den Mangel nicht behebt, wird eine jährliche Geldstrafe in der Höhe von mindestens 1 Prozent seines BIP verhängt.

Im Fall Polen mit einem BIP von rund € 520 Mrd. entspräche dies einer Geldstrafe von rund € 5,2 Mrd. pro Jahr. Die Kommission sollte einen entsprechenden Vorschlag machen, und der EuGH diese Geldstrafe dann verhängen: Alle zwei Monate eine Geldbuße von € 880 Millionen, bis die polnische Regierung das Urteil vom 15. Juli umsetzt. Verpflichtet sich die polnische Regierung, das Urteil vor dem 16. August vollständig umzusetzen und die Repression gegen Richtr einzustellen, würde es keine finanziellen Sanktionen geben.

Ein Wendepunkt für Europa

Das ist eine große Chance für Polen und die EU. Eine Umsetzung des EuGH-Urteils vom 15. Juli würde die Wahrscheinlichkeit eines legalen Polexit minimieren und das Vertrauen in polnische Gerichte in der gesamten EU wiederherstellen.

Die Durchsetzung des Artikels 19-Prinzips würde das EU-Rechtssystem für die Zukunft stärken. Kein EU-Mitgliedstaat sollte je wieder versuchen, die Unabhängigkeit seiner Gerichte zu beinträchtigen oder gar zu zerstören, oder Urteile des EuGHs zu derart grundlegenden Fragen zu ignorieren. Es wäre ein positiver Wendepunkt in der Geschichte der EU. So beschrieb es Koen Lenaerts Anfang 2020:

„Heute stehen die Europäer vor einem entscheidenden Moment in der Geschichte der Integration … der Grundsatz der Unabhängigkeit der Justiz muss gewahrt werden, damit die EU eine ‚Union der Demokratien‘, eine ‚Union der Rechte‘ und eine ‚Union der Justiz‘ bleibt. Wenn die nächste Generation von Europäern neue Horizonte für eine immer engere Union erschließen soll, in der Bürger weiterhin eine Sphäre individueller Freiheit, ohne öffentliche Einmischung, genießen können, dann ist die Integration durch Rechtsstaatlichkeit der einzige Weg nach vorne.“

Mit besten Grüßen,

Gerald Knaus

Twitter: @rumeliobserver

Weiterführende Literatur

Artikel 19 (1)

“Der Gerichtshof der Europäischen Union umfasst den Gerichtshof, das Gericht und Fachgerichte. Er sichert die Wahrung des Rechts bei der Auslegung und Anwendung der Verträge.

Die Mitgliedstaaten schaffen die erforderlichen Rechtsbehelfe, damit ein wirksamer Rechtsschutz in den vom Unionsrecht erfassten Bereichen gewährleistet ist.”

Lesenswert: Das Urteil des EuGH über Polen vom 15. Juli 2021

Ein überzeugender Aufsatz von Koen Lenaerts darüber, was auf dem Spiel steht: New Horizons for the Rule of Law within the EU (2020)

Hier finden Sie einen hervorragenden Überblick über die letzten Entwicklungen, von den führenden Expertent Laurent Pech und Dimitry Kochenov: Respect for the Rule of Law in the Case Law of the European Court of Justice: A Casebook Overview, Mai 2021

Auch lesenswert: Laurent Pech, Patryk Wachowiec und Dariusz Mazur: Poland’s Rule of Law Breakdown: A Five-Year Assessment of EU’s (In)Action, 2021

Ein Must-Read -Klassiker: Tom Bingham, The Rule of Law, 2011

NEU: ESI Inside the system Ziobro built (August 2021)

NEU: ESI How infringement penalties are set – the case for 5 billion (August 2021)

ESI und Batory: On the breakdown of the legal system in Poland (Mai 2018)

Reaktionen auf das Werben von ESI- und Batory dafür, Polen beim EuGH zu verklagen

ESI Brainstorming zur Rechtsstaatlichkeit in Polen, November 2019

ESI und Batory: On the need to take the Polish disciplinary regime to the ECJ. (März 2019)

ESI: On the need to confront the illiberal system Ziobro built (Dezember 2019)

Gerald Knaus in Der Spiegel „Diesmal geht es um alles“ – über Rechtsstaatlichkeit in Polen (Juli 2021)

Gerald Knaus in Der Spiegel über EU-Gelder und  die Krise der Gerichte in Polen (April 2020)

Gerald Knaus in Die Welt zu Polen „Eine Entwicklung viel gefährlicher als der Brexit“ (Oktober 2020)

NEU: ESI 70 years refugee convention – what now? (Juli 2021)

NEU: Rumeli Observer: 22 years of ESI – looking back (Juli 2021)

NEU Rumeli Observer:  Gerald Knaus and Jean Asselborn on refugees and EU borders (Juli 2021)

NEU Diskussion zu Azerbaijan und Korruption, mit dem deutschen Parlamentarier Frank Schwabe (Juli 2021)

5 milliards pour sauver l’UE – La Pologne, les pingouins et l’État de droit

Bulletin d’ESI 8/2021

6 août 2021

5 milliards pour sauver l’UE – La Pologne, les pingouins et l’État de droit

« L’État de droit exige que « même les gardiens de la loi obéissent à la loi… Si vous maltraitez un pingouin dans le zoo de Londres, vous n’échapperez pas à la justice parce que vous êtes l’archevêque de Londres. »

            Tom Bingham, The Rule of Law

Chers amis,

Le 15 juillet, la Cour européenne de justice (CEJ) située au Luxembourg a rendu un arrêt historique qui fait état d’une « rupture structurelle » du système judiciaire polonais qui ne permet plus

« de préserver l’apparence d’indépendance et d’impartialité de la justice et la confiance que les juridictions se doivent d’inspirer dans une société démocratique ni d’écarter tout doute légitime, dans l’esprit des justiciables. »

La CEJ a confirmé ce que beaucoup, dont ESI, ont auparavant décrit dans de nombreux rapports détaillés : Aujourd’hui, la Pologne sert de test pour savoir s’il est possible de créer un système judiciaire dans un État membre de l’UE sans tribunaux indépendants, un système dans lequel les juges peuvent être récompensés ou punis par le gouvernement en fonction du contenu des décisions judiciaires rendues.

Dans une telle situation, le droit à un procès équitable ne peut plus être garanti et la confiance dans les jugements rendus par les tribunaux polonais -nécessaire pour leur reconnaissance par les tribunaux des autres États membres de l’UE- s’effrite. Et comme cela se fait fréquemment de nos jours en Pologne, lorsque les juges nationaux sont sanctionnés parce qu’ils s’adressent à la CEJ afin d’obtenir des conseils sur la manière d’appliquer le droit européen, c’est tout le système juridique européen qui part en lambeau. Dans toute l’UE, les tribunaux nationaux respectent et appliquent les jugements des tribunaux des autres États membres, qu’il s’agisse d’un litige commercial, d’un mandat d’arrêt européen ou d’une décision relative à la garde des enfants. Cette confiance entre les tribunaux rend possible la « libre circulation des décisions judiciaires. » Sans cette confiance, ni la création d’un marché unique ni l’abolition des frontières intérieures n’auraient été possibles. Le président belge de la CEJ qui est âgé de 66 ans, Koen Lenaerts, l’a dit sans ambages au début de 2020 : « sans indépendance judiciaire, les divers recours fondés sur le droit européen deviennent un tigre de papier. » Le dialogue entre les tribunaux nationaux indépendants et la CEJ est, selon Lenaerts, « la clé de voûte du système européen de protection judiciaire. » Et nous le savons, en l’absence de clé de voûte, les bâtiments s’effondrent.

Jusqu’à récemment, selon M. Lenaert, on supposait qu’en adhérant à l’UE, les États « resteraient attachés à la défense de la démocratie libérale, des droits fondamentaux et d’un gouvernement de lois et non d’hommes. Les développements récents montrent que cette hypothèse ne peut simplement pas être considérée comme acquise. »

La bataille pour l’État de droit

Il n’y a pas eu de rupture similaire ailleurs dans l’UE, y compris en Hongrie, à laquelle la Pologne est souvent paresseusement associée. Et aucun ministre de la justice dans l’UE n’a concentré autant de pouvoir entre ses mains que le Polonais Zbigniew Ziobro, l’architecte et le plus grand bénéficiaire de l’effondrement de l’État de droit dans son pays.

Ziobro a rapidement déclaré qu’il préférait se battre contre la CEJ et ignorer les traités européens plutôt que de céder le contrôle. Comme il l’a déclaré le 21 juillet, ces récents arrêts de la CEJ « ne sont pas contraignants pour les autorités polonaises qui agissent sur la base de la constitution polonaise. Se soumettre à ces arrêts serait manifestement illégal. » Il serait naïf d’espérer qu’un gouvernement polonais dont Ziobro est le ministre de la justice se conforme à l’arrêt de la CEJ.

NOUVEAU Inside the system Ziobro built

Document de référence d’ESI

Il serait tout aussi déraisonnable de croire que la CEJ accepte quelques corrections cosmétiques ou « une sorte d’accord », comme l’a récemment suggéré le premier ministre polonais. Les mesures cosmétiques et les faux compromis ne peuvent ni rétablir la confiance dans l’indépendance des tribunaux polonais ni résoudre les problèmes profonds reconnus dans l’arrêt rendu par la CEJ.

La plus haute juridiction de l’Union européenne se prépare à cette épreuve de force depuis des années. Elle a accumulé un bon nombre de munitions juridiques grâce à des arrêts décisifs rendus à partir de février 2018. Comme l’ont décrit deux grands experts, la CEJ a construit « brique par brique, une nouvelle série de principes et de normes pour aider les institutions de l’UE et les tribunaux nationaux à défendre plus efficacement l’État de droit. » L’arrêt du 15 juillet de la CEJ est clair sur ce qui est requis à cet égard. Il comporte quatre points essentiels :

Point 1 : L’État de droit est une valeur fondamentale, exprimée à l’article 19 du Traité de l’Union européenne.

« Un État membre ne saurait donc modifier sa législation de manière à entraîner une régression de la protection de la valeur de l’État de droit, valeur qui est concrétisée, notamment, par l’article 19 Traité de l’Union européenne. »

Point 2 : Les tribunaux indépendants sont d’une importance capitale pour l’État de droit.

« Cette exigence d’indépendance des juridictions, qui est inhérente à la mission de juger, relève du contenu essentiel du droit à une protection juridictionnelle effective et du droit fondamental à un procès équitable, lequel revêt une importance cardinale en tant que garant de la protection de l’ensemble des droits que les justiciables tirent du droit de l’Union. »

Point 3 : Les règles régissant les tribunaux doivent écarter tout doute légitime quant à leur indépendance.

« les garanties d’indépendance et d’impartialité requises en vertu du droit de l’UE postulent l’existence de règles, notamment en ce qui concerne la composition de l’instance, la nomination, la durée des fonctions ainsi que les causes d’abstention, de récusation et de révocation de ses membres, qui permettent d’écarter tout doute légitime, dans l’esprit des justiciables, quant à l’imperméabilité de cette instance à l’égard d’éléments extérieurs et à sa neutralité par rapport aux intérêts qui s’affrontent. »

Point 4 : Les systèmes disciplinaires ne doivent PAS être utilisés afin d’exercer un contrôle sur le contenu des décisions judiciaires.

« S’agissant plus particulièrement des règles gouvernant le régime disciplinaire applicable aux juges, l’exigence d’indépendance…impose…que ce régime présente les garanties nécessaires afin d’éviter tout risque d’utilisation d’un tel régime en tant que système de contrôle politique du contenu des décisions judiciaires. »

La Cour de justice a également formulé cinq demandes concrètes :

Demande 1 : garantir l’indépendance de la nouvelle chambre disciplinaire

Demande 2 : mettre fin à l’abus des procédures disciplinaires pour contrôler le contenu des jugements

Demande 3 : créer un régime disciplinaire solide et prévisible

Demande 4 : mettre fin à l’utilisation abusive de ce régime qui permet d’harceler les juges que le ministère de la justice n’apprécie pas

Demande 5 : mettre fin aux pressions visant à empêcher les juges de s’adresser à la CEJ (par voie de « questions préjudicielles »)

Aujourd’hui, la bataille est engagée et les juges les plus éminents de l’Europe ont à la fois le droit et l’histoire de l’UE de leur côté.

Pourquoi il n’y aura pas de compromis

La détermination du gouvernement polonais à placer le système judiciaire sous son contrôle direct par tous les moyens disponibles ne fait désormais plus aucun doute. Et pourtant, certains observateurs ne voient toujours pas assez clairement la stratégie adoptée par le gouvernement polonais. Nous sommes déjà passés par là.

L’ex-banquier anglophone Mateusz Morawiecki, devenu premier ministre polonais en décembre 2017, est maître dans le jeu diplomatique consistant à faire semblant de négocier sans faire de concessions sur aucune question de fond. En janvier 2018, Morawiecki a rencontré Jean Claude Juncker, alors président de la Commission. Juncker a déclaré qu’il espérait « faire des progrès d’ici la fin du mois de février. » Le 14 février 2018, Juncker a répété : « Je pense qu’il y a de bonnes chances pour que les positions polonaises se rapprochent des nôtres. » Cependant, il n’y a eu aucun progrès. Rien n’a pu être réglé. En Pologne, un nouveau système disciplinaire visant à placer les juges sous le contrôle du gouvernement et miner la séparation des pouvoirs s’est ainsi développé à grande vitesse.

Le 22 mars 2018, le premier ministre polonais n’a pas mâché ses mots : « L’essence-même de la réforme, c’est-à-dire les points les plus importants, reste inchangée. Dans le même temps, nous examinons ce qui pourrait permettre à l’autre partie de dire : Oh, on peut arriver à un compromis avec la Pologne. » Le 3 avril 2018, Juncker a annoncé qu’il considérait les promesses de concessions du gouvernement polonais « avec beaucoup de sympathie. » Le même jour, le secrétaire d’État polonais aux affaires européennes a parlé à une radio allemande pour expliquer que Varsovie faisait des conscessions « sur des questions qui ne jouent aucun rôle central dans le système judiciaire. »

Début mai 2018, selon le Financial Times et d’autres médias internationaux, la Pologne offrait « de nouvelles concessions à l’UE sur les réformes juridiques. » La presse étrangère faisait, en effet, référence aux « concessions » présentées par le gouvernement polonais le 22 mars. Mais, en réalité il n’y avait eu aucune concession ! Le ministre polonais des affaires étrangères, Jacek Czaputowicz, avait admis à l’époque ce que son pays voulait faire, comme le démontrent ces mots qu’il a prononcés le 4 mai 2018 : « Nous voulons montrer une certaine ouverture face aux demandes de la Commission afin de clore ce dossier et de pouvoir traiter d’autres questions européennes importantes, comme le budget. » Plus d’un an après, dans un discours prononcé le 11 novembre 2019, le président Andrzej Duda s’en est pris aux juges de la Cour suprême qui à l’époque encore critiquaient la démarche du gouvernment. Il a déclaré : « Nous allons attendre jusqu’à ce qu’ils partent. »

C’est ce qui s’est précisément passé, et par conséquent, lorsque la CEJ a rendu son arrêt le mois dernier, elle avait affaire à :

  • un Conseil national de la magistrature, chargé de nommer les juges, composé de 25 personnes, dont la grande majorité étaient membres du parti au pouvoir ou nommées par celui-ci ; et
  • un système disciplinaire dans lequel le ministre de la justice nomme directement ou indirectement chaque personne impliquée dans l’enquête, les poursuites et le jugement concernant les plaintes disciplinaires contre les juges.

La voie à suivre – une sanction de 5 milliards d’euros

Dans le contexte actuel, les négociations n’aboutiront nulle part. De plus, elles ne sont certainement pas nécessaires. L’UE n’est pas impuissante : les traités eux-mêmes indiquent la voie à suivre.

Le 20 juillet, la vice-présidente de la Commission européenne, Vera Jourova, déterminée à voir l’arrêt de la CEJ appliqué, a fixé une échéance : « nous demanderons des sanctions financières si la Pologne ne remédie pas à la situation d’ici le 16 août. Les droits des citoyens et des entreprises de l’UE doivent être protégés de la même manière dans tous les États membres. Il ne peut y avoir de compromis sur ce point. »

La possibilité d’imposer des sanctions financières si les arrêts de la CEJ ne sont pas exécutés existe depuis 1993. La CEJ a imposé de telles sanctions à 37 reprises.

Le droit communautaire donne à la Commission le droit de proposer toute sorte de sanction financière. Il octroie également à la CEJ le droit de décider de l’amende à imposer ainsi que du montant qu’elle estime approprié. Calculé sur la base d’une formule élaborée par la Commission en 2005, le montant de ces sanctions a généralement été modeste. Pourtant, cette formule n’est pas immuable. Le traité de l’UE ne fixe pas non plus de limite supérieure. Les lignes directrices de la Commission précisent que l’objectif doit être de « veiller à ce que la sanction elle-même soit dissuasive pour faire arrêter l’infraction » et prévoient des amendes exceptionnelles « le cas échéant, dans des cas particuliers. »

NOUVEAU How infringement penalties are set – the case for 5 billion

Document de référence d’ESI

Jusqu’à présent, il n’y a encore jamais eu de cas d’infraction d’une telle importance concernant le système juridique de l’UE et la survie de l’État de droit. Ce constat justifie une sanction sans précédent dans l’histoire de l’UE. La Commission et la CEJ pourraient le faire sur la base d’un principe découlant de l’article 19 : chaque fois que la CEJ constate que le droit à une « protection juridique effective » par les tribunaux nationaux, garanti par l’article 19 du traité de l’UE, est violé par un État membre, et que celui-ci ne remédie pas à la situation, une sanction financière annuelle d’au moins 1 % du PIB du pays en question doit être imposée à l’égard de celui-ci. Dans le cas de la Pologne, dont le PIB est d’environ 520 milliards d’euros, cela équivaudrait à une amende de quelque 5,2 milliards d’euros par an. La Commission devrait donc proposer, et à son tour, la CEJ doit imposer à la Pologne une amende de 880 millions d’euros tous les deux mois jusqu’à ce que le gouvernement polonais applique l’arrêt du 15 juillet. Toutefois, si le gouvernement polonais s’engage, avant le 16 août, à appliquer l’arrêt pleinement et à abandonner son désir de placer les juges sous son contrôle, il n’y aura pas de sanction financière.

Un tournant pour l’Europe

C’est une grande chance à la fois pour la Pologne et pour l’UE, une chance qui permettrait de rétablir la séparation des pouvoirs en Pologne. L’application de l’arrêt de la CEJ du 15 juillet en Pologne mettrait fin à la perspective d’un Polexit juridique et rétablirait, à travers l’UE, la confiance dans les tribunaux polonais.

La mise en œuvre d’un principe découlant de l’article 19 renforcerait ainsi le système juridique de l’UE pour la prochaine génération. Aucun État membre de l’UE ne devrait plus jamais être tenté de détruire l’indépendance de ses tribunaux. Aucun État ne devrait non plus être tenté d’ignorer les arrêts de la CEJ sur une question aussi cruciale. Ce serait, donc, un tournant positif dans l’histoire de l’UE. Comme l’a dit Koen Lenaerts au début de 2020 :

« Aujourd’hui, les Européens sont confrontés à un moment décisif dans l’histoire de l’intégration […] le principe de l’indépendance judiciaire doit être préservé afin que l’UE reste une ‘Union de démocraties’, une ‘Union de droits’ et une ‘Union de justice’. Si la prochaine génération d’Européens veut explorer de nouveaux horizons pour une Union toujours plus étroite où les citoyens peuvent continuer à jouir d’une sphère de liberté individuelle débarassée de toute ingérence publique, une intégration qui se fait à travers le respect de l’État de droit par tous s’avère être la seule voie possible. »


Gerald Knaus

Twitter: @rumeliobserver

Lecture complémentaire :

Article 19 (1)

1.   La Cour de justice de l’Union européenne comprend la Cour de justice, le Tribunal et des tribunaux spécialisés. Elle assure le respect du droit dans l’interprétation et l’application des traités.

Les États membres établissent les voies de recours nécessaires pour assurer une protection juridictionnelle effective dans les domaines couverts par le droit de l’Union.

Arrêt de la Cour de justice, Commission / Pologne, 15 juillet 2021

Un article remarquable rédigé par Koen Lenaerts sur ce qui est vraiment en jeu : New Horizons for the Rule of Law within the EU (2020)

Un excellent compte-rendu des développements récents par deux spécialistes éminents, Laurent Pech et Dimitry Kochenov : Respect for the Rule of Law in the Case Law of the European Court of Justice: A Casebook Overview, mai 2021

A lire également, Laurent Pech, Patryk Wachowiec et Dariusz Mazur: Poland’s Rule of Law Breakdown: A Five-Year Assessment of EU’s (In)Action, 2021

Un classique à lire absolument: Tom Bingham, The Rule of Law, 2011

Nouvelle publication d’ESI: Inside the system Ziobro built (août 2021)

Nouvelle publication d’ESI: How infringement penalties are set – the case for 5 billion (août 2021)

ESI et Batory: On the breakdown of the legal system in Poland (May 2018)

Réactions au plaidoyer d’ESI et de Batory en faveur de l’engagement des poursuites contre la Pologne devant la CEJ

Séance de réflexion d’ESI sur l’État de droit en Pologne, novembre 2019

ESI et Batory: On the need to take the Polish disciplinary regime to the ECJ (mars 2019)

ESI: On the need to confront the illiberal system Ziobro built (décembre 2019)

Gerald Knaus sur l’État de droit en Pologne,  « Diesmal geht es um alles », Der Spiegel, juillet 2021

Gerald Knaus sur l’argent européen et  la crise causée par l’état du pouvoir judiciaire en Pologne « Die EU muss aufhören, Autokraten wie Orbán bedingungslos zu subventionieren », Der Spiegel, avril 2020

Gerald Knaus sur le danger que représente l’évolution de la situation en Pologne pour l’avenir de l’Union européenne, « Eine Entwicklung viel gefährlicher als der Brexit », Der Spiegel, octobre 2020

NOUVEAU ESI: 70 years refugee convention – what now? (juillet 2021)

NOUVEAU Rumeli Observer: 22 years of ESI – looking back (juillet 2021)

NOUVEAU Rumeli Observer: Gerald Knaus and Jean Asselborn on refugees and EU borders (juillet 2021)

NOUVEAU Rumeli Observer: Debate on Azerbaijan and corruption with German MP Frank Schwabe (juillet 2021)

In crisis and worth saving – ESI review on the 70th anniversary of the Council of Europe

2019-05-06 (28)

One of our many newsletters on the Council of Europe 

On the 70th anniversary of an institution worth saving

As the Council of Europe reaches the robust age of 70 today some might ask whether there is all that much to celebrate.

After all, at this moment the Council of Europe is in the middle of a serious crisis. Looking only at the past few years this is the trend: it is failing in Russia. It is failing in Azerbaijan. It is failing in Turkey. It has made far too weak an impact on arresting the erosion of the rule of law in Hungary and Poland. It is facing serious internal and external threats to its credibility. It has yet to deal seriously with the biggest corruption scandal in its history.

The Council of Europe is in a worrying shape despite the fact that there are very committed people in PACE, where the past two years have seen an uprising of a virtuous coalition of members; despite the fact that there are very committed people in the secretariat; and despite the fact that there are  (far too few) countries taking the CoE as seriously in the Committee of Ministers as it deserves.

At the same time, the current leadership in the secretariat in Strasbourg has failed the institution far too long. Mostly, the Committee of Ministers is weak and indecisive. And even in PACE old networks that want to get back to the bad old days of Pedro Agramunt have not given up. (Just check how few MPs are complying with declarations on possible conflicts of interest.)

In the coming months the credibility crisis of the institution could get a lot worse. There are budget cuts planned that could do lasting damage. These are imposed because of blackmail by a big member mocking the values of the institution. The Council of Europe is facing threats today that could destroy it as a force for good.

This would be tragic. For there is a lot that is worth defending – from the ECtHR and the Venice Commission to Greco, the CPT and the Human Rights Commissioner’s office. There is also a lot to be inspired by in the idea of a club of imperfect European democracies holding each other to the highest standards – and focusing on core human rights. There is a real need for such an institution today, as human rights are coming under attack across Europe, in old and new democracies.

ESI has written many reports, newsletters and papers about the Council of Europe in recent years. We advocated on a number of issues – from political prisoners to corruption, from resisting blackmail to protecting the court. Sometimes we even saw results after long efforts. At times it seemed quixotic – there were not that many other think tanks in Europe working on the institution itself with such obsessive focus.

We would not have done this, had we not been convinced that the Council of Europe matters hugely. That it is truly an institution representing values and embodying ideals worth fighting for. And yet, there is one more thing we have also learned since 2012: never assume that anything will sort itself out without effort and vigilance. And any impact requires a huge coalition of people who care enough to take risks – in and outside the institution. Here civil society organisations have an important role of play.

So this is our anniversary present: links to newsletters we sent out on the Council of Europe since 2012, joined by our hope that the reports which we will write about developments in Strasbourg in the coming decade will be more uplifting.

And with this hope, we wish a very happy anniversary!

The ESI team


2019-05-06 (35)


Links to ESI newsletters on the Council of Europe


On Caviar Diplomacy

Pace and political prisoners

Ilham the Magician


2019-05-06 (34)


Viktor Hugo and the dream of the Council of Europe

The Strasbourg court and Bosnia

The end of election monitoring and PACE


2019-05-06 (33)


Hunger strikers abandoned by PACE

Political prisoners and Jaglands mission

For a Europe without political prisoners

Targeting human rights defenders

The legacy of Sakharov

Origins of modern human rights in Russia

Moscow appeal

Jaglands failure


2019-05-06 (32)


Letters from prison

Formula one, Vaclav and Rasul

Dorian Gray in Strasbourg – the end of shame


2019-05-06 (26)


A European swamp – the biggest scandal


2019-05-06 (23)


Fifa of human rights – anti-corruption in Strasbourg

Three days that shook the Council of Europe

How to investigate corruption?

The hour of truth

The fight against the death penalty in Turkey

Phoenix and the black knight

From Russia with threats

The lobbyist, the judge and the court


2019-05-06 (30)2018

Spring cleaning – the corruption report

On rule of law in Poland and the Venice Commission

Human rights with teeth

More to come … 🙂

Gallery of ESI engagement with the Council of Europe (2012 – 2019) 

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As Italy votes – by John Dalhuisen and Gerald Knaus

As Italy votes – the case for a humane migration policy that works
John Dalhuisen and Gerald Knaus

“Those making moral calculations must reflect on the fact that the only real alternative – in this imperfect world – is not something better, but something much worse.”


Just over a year ago, the Italian government struck a deal with the Libyan authorities to intercept migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. Following the arrival of half a million refugees and migrants in just three years, the centre-left Democratic Party – the same party that set up the ambitious search and rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, back in 2013 – decided that it had to act. A short Memorandum of Understanding was followed by a string of agreements with Libyan mayors and tribal leaders negotiated – often personally – by Italy’s Minister of Interior, Marco Minniti. The policy had an immediate effect: arrivals in the second half of 2017 were down 70 percent compared to the same period the year before, and deaths at sea declined equally sharply.

Italy’s Libya strategy was backed by the rest of the EU but has been roundly criticised by NGOs and UN agencies for trapping thousands of migrants in a lawless country, in which they risk torture, extortion and slavery, sometimes at the hands of the very groups these agreements were struck with. The Libyan coast guard stands accused of handing over those it intercepts to inhumane detention centres, where abuse is common.

And yet, as Italians head to the polls today one thing looks certain: whichever coalition forms the next government, it is likely to continue the policy of the current minister of the interior, who has become one of the most popular politicians in the country. No political party polling more than a few percent is opposed to the policy. In an election dominated by migration, promising to control borders is a pre-requisite for success.

This sobering reality highlights the true challenge for those who care about the right of refugees and migrants trapped in Libya. It is this: how can one persuade those who will shape Italy’s Mediterranean policy in the coming years that a policy that combines control with empathy, effectiveness with humanity, and reduced irregular migration with human rights is not only possible but also electorally preferable for the next Italian government?

A humane policy must aim for zero deaths at sea. It must ensure that all those rescued by European boats have access to a fair, effective asylum procedure. It must ensure that nobody who is intercepted by the Libyan coast guard ends up in inhumane detention centres. And it must protect those in need of protection from being pushed back into danger in their home countries.

How can these goals be met? The next Italian government should propose to its European partners a realistic plan that includes the following four elements.

First, a common effort is needed to ensure sufficient search and rescue capacity beyond Libya’s territorial waters. In the first six months of 2017 more than 2,500 refugees and migrants drowned. 600 people still drowned in the second half of the year despite the reduction in departures. Instead of demonising NGO rescue boats or leaving it to the Libyan coast guard or the Italian authorities, all European countries should make an even bigger effort.

Second, Western support to the Libyan coast guard and the Libyan authorities should be linked to a clear condition: that anybody intercepted/rescued by its boats and taken back to Libya should be offered immediate evacuation to Niger by IOM. The numbers involved make this possible: in 2017 the Libyan coast guard intercepted less than 1,500 people a month on average. In Niger, those who choose not to apply for asylum should be offered assisted return to their countries of origin via IOM. Those who do should be resettled to a safe country if found to be in need of protection. The same should happen with all those (around 5,000) currently held in Libyan detention centres.

Third, securing European agreements with key African countries of origin for the return of all failed asylum seekers arriving after an agreed date should be a priority. The challenge is to find a humane, legal way of reducing irregular economic migration. This can best be achieved by changing the incentives that currently exist for would be economic migrants. Currently the only disincentives to travelling to Europe are the cost and the risk of the journey. The vast majority of migrants who make it to Italy can be confident that they will be able to stay, whether they are granted international protection or not. Last year 130,000 people applied for asylum in Italy, a majority from West African countries. The same year 12,000 applicants were granted international protection. But (almost) everybody stays in Europe, regardless of their asylum status. One obvious reason for this is the reluctance of countries of origin to cooperate in the identification and return of their citizens. In 2016 more than 100,000 people arrived in Italy from six West African nations; around 4,300 citizens of these countries were granted international protection. And 255 returned, voluntarily or by force. Successive Italian authorities have found it easiest to allow migrants to either move on to other European countries, or integrate, however precariously, into Italy’s thriving black economy. Countries of origins should be offered an annual contingent of regular visas (not just by Italy) for work or study. Such agreements will only work if they are found to be in the interests of countries of origin.

Fourth, seriously discouraging irregular economic migration also requires a quick, but fair, asylum process that should seek to award a protection status or move to deport those found to have no claim within two to three months at most. This need not come at the expense of quality: the Netherlands have one of the best systems in Europe and it consistently delivers informed decisions within this timeframe. It may require keeping most asylum-seekers in closed centres for this duration. It would certainly require the financial and administrative support of other EU countries, which should relocate recognized asylum seekers. This would not be cheap to run, or easy to set up, but as a joint European effort it is doable.

This plan would not end all arrivals in Europe – which is not the goal – but it would sharply reduce numbers – which is. It would create legal channels for refugees and economic migrants. It would reduce deaths at sea and not condemn people to torture in Libyan detention centres. It would guarantee access to asylum for those who do reach Italy and uphold the core principles of the Refugee convention for those who do not.

But would such a “Rome plan” be in the interest of the next Italian government? We believe that it would. Italian politics highlights realities which are true for most of the EU today. Any political party that fails to promise to control borders renders itself unelectable. At the same time there are a lot of voters who care about the right to asylum and do not want to see those who cross borders treated inhumanely. Offering such policies would distinguish mainstream parties, on the left and on the right, from racists on the far-right.

And the human rights community? Many will welcome the commitment to legal paths, but baulk at the prospect of more returns, faster procedures and closed asylum processing centres. But those making moral calculations must reflect on the fact that the only real alternative – in this imperfect world – is not something better, but something much worse. Demagogues are best defeated by demonstrating – with conviction and through effective policies – that a world in which empathy has a central place, is possible.

Such a plan is in Italy’s interest. The EU should back it. So should anyone who cares about human rights in the Mediterranean and about the welfare of those so desperately trying to cross it.


John Dalhuisen is ESI Senior Fellow and former director for Europe @ Amnesty International; Gerald Knaus is ESI founding chairman


John Dalhuisen