The Financial Times has an article today, suggesting that Poland may find itself suspended from voting in the European Union if allegations of secret CIA prisons on Polish soil bear out.
Franco Frattini, justice commissioner, threatened the countries with “serious consequences, including the suspension of the right to vote in the Council [the Union’s main decision-making body]”.
… Under the EU treaty, countries that do not act in accordance with “European values” on issues such as human rights can have their voting rights deprived – although such a step has never been taken. Poland and Romania, which Human Rights Watch, the campaign group, said were the most likely hosts of the jails, deny the claim, as do several other countries. Romania is due to join the EU in 2007.
This could prove to be an important catalyst. While the relationship between the EU and US is less overtly confrontational than it was a year ago, the US actually has less European friends than it did back then. There’s a general feeling of disgust among European political elites (including those who are usually pro-US) for America’s involvement in torture, extraordinary renditions and human rights abuses. Important allies of the US such as Blair and Berlusconi have been weakened, and likely aren’t around for too much longer. Not only that, but there are internal European politics too. There’s suspicion and dislike of the new Polish government in other EU capitals; while it certainly didn’t set up the putative prisons, it does have a distinct whiff of populist authoritarianism, and black prisons may prove to be a convenient excuse for taking action to clip its wings. Nor is there much appetite for Romania’s imminent membership of the EU either. Finally, action would be a very attractive way for EU officials to improve the European Union’s image with voters in France, Holland and elsewhere, by showing that the EU is about more than free trade and agriculture subsidies.
If evidence emerges showing that the Poles and Romanians are guilty, and the EU then takes action against them (perhaps suspending Poland; perhaps finding that Romania doesn’t seem sufficiently committed to the EU’s human rights regime), EU politics are going to get very interesting again. I still think that the odds are against this happening; there are very obvious risks to sanctioning (cf. how l’affaire Joerg Haider fizzled out, giving rise to the beefier institutions that may be invoked in this instance). But they’re a lot lower than they seemed to me a few days ago.