The EU therefore faces not just an “illiberal democracy” in its midst, as it does with Victor Orbán’s Hungary. For the first time in its history, the EU must confront the prospect of a member state that is a non-democracy, in the fundamental sense of lacking free, unrigged elections. And Kaczyński can count on Orbán to provide him cover (in the expectation of reciprocation when needed), by vetoing any attempt at depriving the PiS government of its vote within the EU, a move that would require member states’ unanimous support.
If Kaczyński succeeds in controlling Poland’s Supreme Court, or if he finds another way to rig Polish elections, the implications for the EU will be profound and far-reaching. Unless Hungary’s veto can be circumvented, a non-democratic state will participate in legislating for the populations of the remaining democratic member states for many years.
As in the case of Brexit, Poland’s domestic political turmoil reveals how intertwined the EU’s member states have become. If democracy and the rule of law are overthrown in one, serious repercussions for all the others cannot be avoided. But the EU seems to lack effective mechanisms for resolving this problem, despite being legally, politically, and indeed morally unable to permit it to persist. To rein in Kaczyński, Europe’s lawyers and politicians will have to put their heads together – before the entire structure falls apart.