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Opinion | District council disqualifications: EU meddling hypocritical and shortsighted

By Grenville Cross

On Oct. 21, the Home Affairs Bureau announced that 16 district councilors would be disqualified because their oaths of office were invalid. This brought the number of recently disqualified district councilors to 55. Like other public officials, district councilors are legally required to uphold the Basic Law and pledge loyalty to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, but some have been insincere.

The bureau explained that an oath-taker "must sincerely believe in and strictly abide" by the relevant oath, and anybody who made a "false oath or who, after taking the oath, engages in conduct in breach of the oath, shall bear legal responsibility in accordance with the law". Oaths of allegiance are common for officeholders around the world, and violators invariably face consequences. Although district councilors were not previously required to pledge their loyalty, this turned out to be a lacuna which was manipulated by political wreckers, and the situation cried out for rectification.

Following the 16 disqualifications, the US State Department spokesman, Ned Price, called them "an erosion of human rights and fundamental freedoms", and urged Beijing to abide by "its treaty obligations". The US then sought support, and, once the European Union was requested to join in, it eagerly obliged. Its spokesman declared that the departures of the district councilors would "negate" the results of the 2019 elections and weaken Hong Kong's "democratic governance structure". Aping Price, who probably scripted its remarks, the EU also called on Beijing to "act in accordance with its international commitments". It then demanded the "protection of civil and political rights in Hong Kong", which, given its own democratic deficit, was quite extraordinary.

Since its inception, the EU has shown utter contempt for the democratic processes of its member states, and also for their legal systems. Hellbent on creating a superstate, it has deployed every tactic possible to promote its federal agenda, despite popular opposition. Even after the United Kingdom decided enough was enough and voted to leave the bloc on June 23, 2016 ("Independence Day"), the EU refused to accept their verdict, and sought to overturn it. By mobilizing its UK proxies, including its former external affairs commissioner, Chris Patten, an unelected member of the House of Lords, it sought to sabotage the withdrawal legislation, with Patten even calling for a second referendum.

This, of course, is a well-tried EU tactic. Whenever a country takes a decision of which it disapproves, it is told to try again until it gets it "right". When Denmark, for example, rejected the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, its people were told, after pressures had been applied and sweeteners offered, that they had to vote again. As for Ireland, it dared to defy the EU twice, first by rejecting the Nice Treaty in 2001, and then by rejecting the Lisbon Treaty in 2008. On both occasions, instead of respecting their wishes, the EU told the Irish to vote again, but to make sure they came up with the "correct" result next time.

Sometimes, however, second votes are not constitutionally feasible, and at this point the EU resorts to chicanery. In 2005, for example, the electorates of both France and the Netherlands rejected the "Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe", or TCE, and this was a real setback for the EU's centralizing agenda. However, the EU hit upon a solution, and it simply changed the TCE's name to the "Lisbon Treaty", which was subterfuge incarnate. Since treaties can be brought into effect at the governmental level, without the approval of the voters, the EU was able to thwart the decisions of the French and the Dutch electorates and to get what it wanted.

It beggars belief, therefore, that an entity which has shown such contempt for the democratically expressed wishes of its own peoples should have the gall to lecture China on democracy. It is, moreover, astonishing that, whereas the US waxes lyrical about democracy in Hong Kong, it blithely disregards its suppression in the EU, and this has emboldened it to crack down in other areas.

On Oct. 7, after Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the country's own laws had primacy over those of the EU, all hell broke loose. The EU, instead of respecting a judicial ruling of one of its member states, once again showed itself in its true colors. As it is obsessed with "ever closer union", leading to a United States of Europe, the EU decided that Polish judges, like Danish, Dutch, French and Irish voters before them, could not be allowed to get in its way, and had to be crushed.

The EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, announced that she was "deeply concerned" by the tribunal's ruling, claiming it called "into question the foundations of the European Union", and was a "direct challenge to the unity of the European legal order". She said the commission would use "all its powers" to keep Poland in check, and these could include suspending Poland's voting rights, the withdrawal of funds, and delaying the release of 57 billion euros ($66.2 billion) in EU coronavirus recovery funds. In other words, if Poland was not prepared to accept its subordinate status as a "legal colony", it would be punished, even if it meant riding roughshod over its legal system.

Poland, however, is a proud country, and, as its turbulent history shows, it is not afraid to stand up for itself. The prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, declared "it is unacceptable to talk about financial penalties", and made clear that "I will not have EU politicians blackmail Poland". Instead, therefore, of rolling over in the face of EU threats, as many other member states would have done, he said he would "defend our rights with any weapons which are at our disposal", and people of goodwill everywhere will wish him well.

On Oct. 28, the EU then mounted a secondary attack on Poland's judicial system. Its judicial arm, the European Court of Justice, ordered the country to pay fines of 1 million euros a day for not suspending the Supreme Court's disciplinary chamber, as it had been ordered to do in July. The disciplinary chamber was established in 2018 to combat corruption within the judiciary, but the EU saw it as a threat to its influence. Not surprisingly, Poland's deputy justice minister, Sebastian Kaleta, condemned a ruling that "ignores the Polish constitution and the rulings of the Polish constitutional tribunal".

By hook or by crook, therefore, the EU is determined to bring Poland to heel. Indeed, on Sept 20, just weeks before the assaults on its legal system, the ECJ ordered Poland to pay the EU commission 500,000 euros for each day that it continues to extract lignite from its Turow mine, near the Czech border. The Turow power plant generates about 7 percent of the country's electricity, ensuring energy security for millions of people, but the ECJ ordered its closure in July.

Poland, however, insists that the ECJ has no right to interfere in key security issues of member states, including their energy mix, and it has, to popular acclaim, ignored the court order. The Solidarity Union's local leader, Wojciech Ilnicki, said the ECJ's ruling "undermines the sense of Poland's functioning in the European Union", and called on the government to reject what he called a "shameful verdict". Although Ilnicki warned that Solidarity was preparing for "drastic" protests, he needs to understand that Turow is only a sideshow, and that the EU, using the ECJ, is out to break Poland for having dared to assert its sovereignty.

The ECJ, despite its name, is not an objective tribunal in the conventional sense. Instead, it is a political entity committed to advancing the EU policy of "ever closer union", and this it does through successive judgments that widen the authority of the EU Commission over member states, with Poland being the latest victim. It was the ECJ's political agenda that prompted many British voters to back Brexit, and this explains the UK's current objection to the court playing any role in the future of Northern Ireland.

What, however, is particularly shameful is that, apart from Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orban, very few EU leaders have dared to risk upsetting the EU by standing with Poland. He, of course, is a doughty defender of the rights of nation states, and, as Reuters reported on April 16, he also blocked an EU statement proposed by anti-China elements that was critical of the National Security Law for Hong Kong. He rightly pointed out that Poland is "one of the best European countries", and that "what's going on there is regularly that European institutions circumvent the rights of the national parliament and government". The EU, therefore, now also has him in its sights, and his fellow leaders have kept their heads down, knowing what happens to those who dare confront the behemoth.

In 2015, for example, after Greece's anti-austerity Syriza government won a huge electoral mandate to end austerity, the EU ruthlessly clamped down on it. As its then-finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, explained, the European Central Bank cut off emergency liquidity for Greece's private banks, bringing the country to its knees. Syriza was forced to capitulate to EU demands, causing untold misery to ordinary Greeks and an unemployment rate of 23.5 percent. If nothing else, this ugly episode brought home to the Greek people, and people throughout the bloc, that they could vote until they were blue in the face, but the EU would disregard their wishes if they disliked them. This, of course, is what happens when national sovereignty is sacrificed, and the UK can praise the gods that it was able to get out of the EU while there was still time.

But, while Orban was prepared to stand by Poland as the bullies circled, there was, remarkably, no sign of support from the British government. Although the UK is now out of the EU, its ties with Poland remain deep, and 815,000 people of Polish nationality were estimated to be living in the UK in 2020, according to Statista.com. Indeed, Britain went to war with Nazi Germany in 1939 on the back of its guarantee to defend Poland from aggression, yet it cannot now even manage a whimper of protest as the EU seeks to crush it. This, of course, is alarming, as the brazen intimidation of Poland's government and judges is not simply an internal EU issue, but a concern for everybody who values the rule of law.

Instead of rallying support for Poland, all that the British foreign secretary, Liz Truss, could focus upon was the expulsion of some oath-breaking district councilors in Hong Kong. Albeit under US pressure, she announced that the disqualifications were "deeply concerning", and called upon the government to "uphold freedom of speech and allow the public a genuine choice of political representatives", remarks more properly directed at the EU.

Quite clearly, Truss must try harder to grasp a fundamental that always eluded her predecessor, the hapless Dominic Raab. The British people did not vote to take back control from the EU in order to become a US lapdog, barking upon request. They voted for an independent future, in which the UK is free to chart its own course and forge new partnerships around the world. Indeed, concerns have already been expressed that Truss has been overly promoted, and these will not be allayed by performances like this.

Hong Kong, however, has now purged its institutions of the political saboteurs who tried so hard to wreck it from within, and good governance is returning. Because of its revised electoral arrangements, the destabilizers are finished as a political force and the city's fate is now firmly in the hands of those who want it to succeed, and who wish the country well. Although the EU can whinge away to its heart's content about the departure of the oath-breakers, it should understand that Hong Kong is no less valiant than Poland when it comes to standing up for itself.

If it so wishes, the EU can disregard the new reality, just as it ignores the decisions of its electorates. However much the EU likes stirring the pot, Hong Kong is now very much back in business. Shortsightedness is in nobody's interests, and the EU should do itself a favor by getting onto the right side of history.

(Source: China Daily)

The author is a Senior Counsel, Professor of Law and criminal justice analyst, and was previously the Director of Public Prosecutions of the Hong Kong SAR.


The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.

Read more articles by Grenville Cross:

Opinion | US ambassador: Maturity required to regain trust

Opinion | National Security: New mechanisms ensure fair trials

Opinion | Foreign interference: Protective mechanisms legitimate and necessary

Opinion | AUKUS is a stab in the back and a big mistake


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