EU Suspension for Poland?

by Henry Farrell on November 28, 2005

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.

bq. 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]”.

bq. … 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.

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Outside The Beltway
11.29.05 at 6:55 am



beatroot 11.28.05 at 7:22 pm

I think you have chosen the wrong issue. The CIA story is a fantastic one, but that’s it. There are no gulags in Poland or Romania. There might be a place in which prisoners are kept for a short while, however. But the only real evidence that we have is that the planes have been stopping in these places. But they have also been stopping in Spain, Italy, Denmark, UK…but nobody is suggesting that there are secret prisons in these countries. But it is equally possible, all the same.

THe issue that is going to get Poland in more trouble is gay rights…the new government and its weird little mates in parliament are not of the 21st century at all. And it’s this culture clash that is going to be causing the problems.


Maria 11.28.05 at 8:29 pm

I was actually rather surprised to see Frattini making such a strong statement – DG JAI isn’t exactly known for its liberal approach.

There may be an element of turf war between the Commission and the member states on this one, with the Commission lashing out against unilateralist moves by the member states (unilateral moves that also happen to be illegal). There is arguably any number of ways the new member states infringe the ECHR and yet aren’t called on it, presumably because they have a little informal space to come into active compliance with the ECHR, etc. So why call them on this issue?

Partly, as Henry says, there is wide and deep disgust about torture and rendition amongst the European political elite.

But when I looked more closely at Frattini’s statement, the threat to suspend voting rights is strongly qualified by the need for proof of wrongdoing by Poland/Romania. And getting that proof does not seem to involve more than Frattini sending a stern letter to those governments asking them if they’ve misbehaved. On the face of it, I don’t think there is another mechanism to investigate this – though I’d be happy to be proved wrong. So I suspect that ‘action’ on this subject may be limited to statements of disapproval.

Of course this has the positive effect of reinforcing EU member state behavioural norms amongst the new countries. But I don’t think there is a serious threat to member state voting rights. Again, happy to be wrong!


otto 11.28.05 at 9:01 pm

If the EU suspends any countries voting rights, the constitutional treaty will be dead in that very moment; and taking this sort of action will set up permanent populist paranoia and antagonism to the EU across the EU, not less.

Of course, the question of suspension is not at all up to the Commission which would probably like to suspend the voting rights of all the member states all the time.


Charly 11.28.05 at 9:42 pm

The constitutional treaty is already death.


John Quiggin 11.28.05 at 9:48 pm

I’d interpret the threat of suspension as the dispensable part of an ambit claim, and as a display of even-handedness, with the real threat being to block or delay Romania’s membership. As Maria says, the Polish government can probably get away with a flat denial, but I don’t think this is true for Romania.


P O'Neill 11.28.05 at 10:02 pm

The retaliation for Poland would be to ask for the same punishment for rendition flights, which as earlier comments indicate, would cover a much broader group of countries. Slightly related, we have the spectacle of the Republic of Ireland really cracking down on these flights — the foreign minister is going to ask Condi to say it like she really, really means it, that the US doesn’t use Shannon for these flights:

Irish Times — Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern will this week seek fresh assurances from the US government that Shannon airport is not being used for “rendition” flights that take prisoners to third countries for interrogation. Mr Ahern will raise the issue with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when they meet in Washington on Thursday.

The US has told the Government a number of times this year that “rendition” flights do not pass through Shannon, but Mr Ahern will alert Dr Rice to public concern over the issue.

Human Rights Watch has identified at least one CIA flight that stopped at Shannon before flying to Afghanistan and Romania on an alleged “rendition” mission.


labrador 11.28.05 at 10:10 pm

This is interesting and I missed this article. Thank you, Henry.

Btw, when I follow your link, as I have a subscription to FT, the article appears with a November 3 date. I’m wondering where you see that it was posted today. I ask this as a matter of understanding the context in time of these statements. Thanks.

First, this is my first post here. A big thank you to all for the considered discourse. I’ve been reading this blog for a number of months.

There is so much to be concerned with, but torture above all else sums up my concerns for America, as I am a US citizen.

Simply, I am not concerned with the tortured alone, although they are sufficient cause for alarm, nor I am solely concerned with the torturers, although how they came to their actions in my name and who they are now cries for address, but I am in despair at the culture of hatred needed to feed these nightmarish flames.

Thank you Henry for keeping this issue before us.

Lastly, as it seems to have received little notice in the corners I frequent, another small insight into the Bush Administration, a tidbit of information, the Italian Ambassador until about a month ago was Melvin Sembler. He was the Italian Ambassador – although he doesn’t speak Italian – during the passing of the forged Niger docs through Italy.

Mel Sembler is now the chairman for the legal defense of Scooter Libby. (

But the important thing to understand about Mel is that he was the founder of STRAIGHT. STRAIGHT was founded on the principles of Synanon. I know about Synanon because I live in an area where they operated, and I know folks that were abducted and tortured by them.

STRAIGHT utilized the same techniques, but it utilized on kids alone.

There are many current day off shoots of STRAIGHT, but STRAIGHT had by some reports 40,000 participants (as compared to “graduates”) … and the article I post says that half of them, a modest number, were subject to ritual abuse.

Ambassador de Sade
By John Gorenfeld, AlterNet. Posted November 8, 2005.

Clearly, Dobson has tried a different tact: just cut to the chase and torture kids in the home yourself.

What in the hell is wrong with these people? Advocating child abuse!!

And why do “we” even give them a damn forum?

(Dubya is on that forum list too!)

Depressingly yours… Where is the humanity?


Henry 11.28.05 at 10:31 pm

Maria, John, could you email me? Have been trying to contact you to get things up and running for the forthcoming event (planned tomorrow) – dunno if my emails have been getting through.


PierreM 11.28.05 at 10:53 pm

Beatroot has it about right, I think. After all, neither Poland nor Romania are reknowned for having large numbers of native Arabic speakers trained in the finer aspects of interrogation.

So I think this is another case of an human rights org overstating its case.

The rendition flights do add another dimension, but I find it hard to believe that European governments were not informed.

Another legal twist: if the detainees were considered prisoners of the American military, then their transportation might be covered by Status of Forces agreements between the US and various countries.

For example, American troops charged in American military courts are probably moved routinely through Germany without special notification under the SOF agreement. I doubt such an agreement specifically mentions other prisoners but it probably doesn’t exclude it either.


theogon 11.28.05 at 10:54 pm

Regarding the use of the word “elites” – is there anything to suggest that the ficticiously average European (Jacques, um, Sixpaq) is not disgusted by torture?

Also, why do I so often hear referenced “European elites” as opposed to more powerful, say, American elites? Who are the European elites? This isn’t snark; I’m genuinely ignorant.


Henry 11.28.05 at 11:07 pm

labrador – that would be because I included the wrong hyperlink (i.e. to an old article). Should be fixed now.

beatroot – you could well be right – I have made it clear, I hope, that this will only be an issue if the allegations bear out.

theogon – I say European elites because I haven’t spent much time in mainland Europe over the last year, and what time I have, has mostly been talking to MEPs, national level politicians and the like as part of my research. I’m not well enough in touch with the man on the Charleroi omnibus to talk to his interests.


John Emerson 11.28.05 at 11:52 pm

After all, neither Poland nor Romania are reknowned for having large numbers of native Arabic speakers trained in the finer aspects of interrogation.

A remarkably stupid statement. What these countries allegedly offered was a willingness to let torturing to be done, not expertise of any kind. The interregators could be flown in on the same plane.

In any case, American mistreatment of prisoners is pretty gratuitous, and not efficiently oriented either toward getting information or toward prosecuting malefactors.


otto 11.29.05 at 12:10 am

“Also, why do I so often hear referenced “European elites” as opposed to more powerful, say, American elites? Who are the European elites?”

Big question. But largely it has to do with the fact that European political parties have much more freedom of action vis-a-vis their domestic interests and civil societies than American politicians.


nick s 11.29.05 at 12:39 am

After all, neither Poland nor Romania are reknowned for having large numbers of native Arabic speakers trained in the finer aspects of interrogation.

Neither does Cuba. Heck, neither does the US.


Doug M. 11.29.05 at 3:11 am

Henry, this is an interesting story… but nothing, repeat, nothing is going to come of it. Other than offending and annoying the Poles.

Nobody is going to lose their voting rights. Nobody’s even going to come close.

One, as already noted, you’d have to prove violations. Good luck.

Two, you’d have to get a broad political consensus that the violations are violations, and that suspension is an appropriate punishment. This is IMO wildly unlikely.

Three, you’d have to get the mechanism to work. Check it out:

“If the Heads of State or Government, acting on a proposal by one third of the Member States or by the Commission, and after obtaining the assent of the European Parliament, declare that a serious and persistent breach of the EU’s underlying principles has occurred, the Council may, acting by a qualified majority, suspend certain of the rights deriving from the application of the EU Treaty and EC Treaty to the Member State in question, including voting rights in the Council.”

Breaking that down, you need

— a proposal by 1/3 of Europe’s Prime Ministers or a majority of the Commission; and then

— a majority in the EU Parliament; and then also,

— a majority in the Council.

That is just so obviously not going to happen.

This looks like politics of gesture, and — at first glance — rather clumsy gesture at that.

The new members are a different breed of cat, and the rules of the game have changed. Europe’s old guard is oddly slow to realize this, but finger-wagging from Brussels is more likely to backfire than to cow. People who survived Ceasescu or Gomulka are not going to be impressed by Franco Frattini.

Doug M.


brendan 11.29.05 at 4:37 am

EU moral stands on democracy (and torture etc.) would have a lot more credence were it not for the fact that there are serious doubts (don’t have the link unfortunately, but remember reading it) about whether Italy, for example, would actually be allowed into the EU were they to attempt to join now. Berlusconi’s control over huge areas of the country’s media would certainly seem to be suspicious from a democratic point of view, not to mention persistent allegations of Berlusconi at the very least ‘turning a blind eye’ to organised crime (and of course some of the allegations go much further than that).

This should be borne in mind when people start stating that we are not sure whether Turkey (again e.g.) is ‘ready’ to join the EU yet.


AB 11.29.05 at 5:26 am

This is silly talk.

No way they will ever seriously consider suspending voting rights; this would mean open warfare within the EU, weakening it further.

Already the talk of suspension will prove very costly in the long run. Do they really want to foster further euroscepticism in Poland?

Just shows how politically stupid some commissioners really are.

If illegal torture does indeed take place in Poland, then first find out and then try to take small specific actions rather than flat-out punishment.


ajay 11.29.05 at 6:55 am

Er, Brendan, “unsavoury links between government and media” : “beating innocent men to death in a network of officially non-existent prisons” :: “chalk” : “cheese”.


soru 11.29.05 at 7:20 am

At the risk of agreeing with brendan:

There were further reports of excessive use of force and ill-treatment, sometimes amounting to torture, by law enforcement and prison officers. Several detainees and prisoners died in disputed circumstances

The usually unspoken truth about recent changes to US practices is that they represent a movement of the US from the upper half to the lower half of the european norm. That’s not something to be complacent about: it wasn’t that long ago that the Italian security agencies were planting bombs in train stations, and several EU members were dictatorships in living memory.

The US is probably still above turkey, though maybe if current trends continue in a few years time there will be turkish films about the horrors of life in a US jail.



abb1 11.29.05 at 7:54 am

Well, Soru, most people suspect that those planting bombs in train stations were ultimately paid by the CIA. No one planted any bombs in Finland, you know.


sherlock von bladet, analytic detective 11.29.05 at 9:26 am

“several EU members were dictatorships in living memory.”

Sneaky! No dictatorship, of course, has ever been a member of the EU.


Dan Hardie 11.29.05 at 9:32 am

[aeiou] Maria Farrell, the Paris Hilton of the left blogosphere, strikes again:
‘Partly, as Henry says, there is wide and deep disgust about torture and rendition amongst the European political elite.’

So much disgust, indeed, that France cooperates hand-in-glove with the Algerian authorities against Islamists, deports terror suspects back to North African countries without a second thought (cough: ‘extraordinary rendition’), and has no safeguards worth the name regarding the detention and interrogation of French citizens detained on terror charges.

I’d like to know what the ‘European elites’ would actually have to do to trigger some sort of negative reaction from Maria. I dunno…cut down on European lobbyists’ fees, maybe?


abb1 11.29.05 at 9:45 am

Shorter Dan Hardie: yes, I’m a nasty arrogant bastard who enjoys insulting people for no reason.


Dan Hardie 11.29.05 at 9:56 am

Um, no. The reason would be something called ‘torture’, which even a self-obsessed insular American leftie might concede is a bad thing even when those practising it are not American. Subtle clue: re-read my post and look out for the words ‘torture’ and ‘extraordinary rendition’. Can you do that, little halfwit?


Barry 11.29.05 at 10:03 am

It’s a true point. The countries were dictatorships before they were EU members, but
they were dictattorships, and are now EU members.

I see the point as that, in a number of these countries, many of the people remember what life under a dictatorship was like. Far too many people in the US look at things like the destruction of habeas corpus, secret prisons with no oversight, and a government claiming war powers with no end date in sight, and like it.

Frankly, it’s because they’re scared, ignorant, or fanatical Republicans. They aren’t thinking of the consequences, or are foolishly assuming that the consequences will be controlable: that the GOP will rule for the next few decades, or that a GOP Congress/Supreme Court will strip a Democratic President of those power, or that only ‘terrorists’ will be imprisoned and tortured.

People who’ve lived under dictators, and who feared the secret police, and who had relatives killed or unjustly imprisoned, know better.


Dan Hardie 11.29.05 at 10:21 am

Oh, I knew it would happen. No reference may be made to torture by any nation other than the United States, on pain of the utterly childish penalty of (ready for a silly word?) ‘disemvowelling’..
Pathetic. Try disemvowelling this one: ‘France is also complicit in rendition and torture, and therefore it is deeply questionable whether ‘disgust’ is felt by ‘European elites’ at such practices.’

Or, to save you the trouble: ‘
‘Frnc s ls cmplct n rndtn nd trtr, nd thrfr t s dply qstnbl whthr ‘dsgst’ s flt by ‘rpn lts’ t sch prctcs.’


Dan Hardie 11.29.05 at 10:33 am

I think we could continue pre-disemvowelling. Perhaps such a practice will convince Henry of its childish weakness. Or perhaps a lifetime’s experience has left Henry perfectly adjusted to ignore his own weakness.

Let’s see: ‘Maria and Henry Farrell do not bother to address the considerable evidence of French state complicity in practices which, when practised by the United States, the French state condemns.’

What does that look like?

Mr nd Hnry Frrll d nt bthr t ddrss th cnsdrbl vdnc f Frnch stt cmplcty n prctcs whch, whn prctsd by th Untd Stts, th Frnch stt cndmns

‘This attitude does not speak well of their intellectual honesty.’

‘Ths tttd ds nt spk wll f thr ntllctl hnsty.’

‘Is either of them a paid lobbyist with the EU, and hence rather likely to downplay the involvement of EU governments in torture?’

Ooops. Don’t have time to disemvowell that one. No doubt Henry will, when he’s blown out all seven candles on his birthday cake.


Henry 11.29.05 at 10:40 am


You’re banned from commenting for a week to see if it’ll stop you throwing temper tantrums. Any comments you make on my posts over the next week will be deleted as soon as I see them.


abb1 11.29.05 at 11:24 am

Lol. Shorter Dan Hardie: I know I despise torture more than you all do, and that’s why I am morally superior to you, loathsome creatures. Every time I type the word ‘torture’ I’m reminded of my superiority.


Walt Pohl 11.29.05 at 12:16 pm

Henry: Yay!


Phil Hunt 11.29.05 at 12:52 pm

Doug M: People who survived Ceasescu or Gomulka are not going to be impressed by Franco Frattini.

Romania isn’t in the EU yet, and if it pisses off too many people like Frattini within the EU’s ruling class, it won’t be. So I’d say Romania is likely to take seriously any accusations made against it.


Maria 11.29.05 at 5:52 pm

FWIW I’m not a ‘lobbyist to the EU’, paid or otherwise. You don’t have to like me, Dan, but you do have to be civil and it also helps to be correct.

It is also a little ironic that Dan shares with Jacques Chirac the misconception that France = EU.


PierreM 11.29.05 at 11:19 pm

A remarkably stupid statement. So, John, the US had to fly interrogators into Poland or Romania, instead of just temporarily holding prisoners there?

Why? All the normal interrogation centers in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Afghanistan were full? The interrogators got frequent flyer miles? There was a Pierogi Festival going on?

Ever heard of Ockham’s Razor, John?


Zephania 11.30.05 at 5:49 am

Two points …

Well, Soru, most people suspect that those planting bombs in train stations were ultimately paid by the CIA.”

In August of this year there was a 25 year remembrance of the Bologna train bombing. Very little of it in the English speaking news that I could find, just four links to the same Italian newspaper. Anyway, when the deputy Prime Minister addressed the crowd he was hissed at and booed.

The other point … the Poet (Peter Dale Scott, who else?) refers to kryptocracy. That is, governance by hidden forces. Isn’t the ‘prisons’ story an example of the kryptocracy coming to the fore because they no longer fear any censure?

If I were to throw someone down an oubliette in my garden, if caught, I think that the ‘censure’ would be quite severe.

Then again, if five black men were to follow someone on to a tube train in London and pin him to the seat while one of them shot several bullets into his head …

I may appear to digress but the common thread is the collapse of the state and its replacement with, well, with something different.


Irie 11.30.05 at 12:31 pm

This may seem trivial, but I think its worth objecting to your phrase “Poles and Romanians are guilty”, as opposed to the Polish and Romanian authorities. To assume that people are guilty of the actions of their governments, is to assume that there is a functioning democracy – which is something of which I am yet to be convinced exists in this world of ours.


mdhatter 12.01.05 at 1:10 am

Due Process is a European Value.


I remember when it was an american one too.

Can’t you?


Zephania 12.01.05 at 9:05 am

is to assume that there is a functioning democracy

Try this voting essay for some background regarding democracy.


Doug M. 12.02.05 at 6:57 am

Romania isn’t in the EU yet, and if it pisses off too many people like Frattini within the EU’s ruling class, it won’t be.

Pfft. The absolute worst case scenario is Romania losing one (1) year, and joining in January 2008 instead of 2007.

So I’d say Romania is likely to take seriously any accusations made against it.

You’d say that, but you’d be wrong. The Poles are outraged. The Romanians? They’re just shrugging and pretending nothing has happened.

One hesitates to ascribe this to innate differences in national character, but I have the strong vibe the Romanians know they can’t be made for this one. Like the kid who’s already walked out of the store, and who didn’t get caught on the securicam. Does he have anything in his knapsack? Sorry, he doesn’t care to say. You can’t force him to open it now. He knows his rights — and he knows you know them too. Behaving strangely? If you say so. Any other questions? No? Thank you.

The Poles are the kid who’s getting red and yelling about how dare you call me a thief. He’ll still be arguing with you in the parking lot while the Romanian is six blocks away, firing up a joint behind the bleachers with that cute exchange student.

Doug M.


Doug M. 12.02.05 at 11:11 am

That last entry will probably make more sense if you know that I am not Romanian, but do spend a lot of time in Romania.

Doug M.

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