The European Film Awards hardly have the stateside cache of the Oscars – or even the People’s Choice Awards – but this year’s winners should send a chill through those who still insist movie awards matter – or that they truly honor the best cinematic achievements.

Director Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer swept the awards, winning Best European Film, Best European Director and Best European Actor (Ewan McGregor), as well as receiving top kudos for its screenplay, music and production design.

Did Polanski’s public trial over his decades-old rape charge factor into the decision making? It’s hard to see how it didn’t. The Ghost Writer earned respectable reviews from U.S.-based film critics, but it hasn’t even shown up on the Oscar radar.

Does anyone think McGregor’s work in the film outstripped Javier Bardem’s devastating performance in Biutiful?

The artistic community has been the most eager to accept Polanski back into the fold despite his actions, and directors like Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese have gone on record supporting him against further prosecution. So it’s not hard to imagine artistically-minded voters letting their affection for Polanski influence their decisions.

Simply stated, The Ghost Writer is a tightly crafted affair but hardly worth award consideration – let alone the stuff of sweeps. So watching it Hoover up Euro-awards should make one’s Spidey senses tingle.

This isn’t the space to rehash the arguments against Polanski the defendant, but it is worth noting yet another example of movie award voters using their power to make a statement rather than honor true film achievement.

And each time that happens, the public trusts the award in question – and its cultural significance – a little less.

The timing of Polanksi’s sweep is instructive, given The Wrap‘s story on a warning regarding the Golden Globes. A PR executive for the awards accused the Hollywood Foreign Press Association of “unsavory business practices.”

Perhaps the Pia Zadora debacle wasn’t an isolated incident.

Emotion often plays a factor in movie award voting, and sometimes it’s hard to quibble with it. Consider Paul Newman’s 1986 Best Actor Oscar for The Color of Money. No, it’s not his best performance, but it’s hard to argue that a screen legend of his caliber should go Oscar-less for his entire career.

Other emotionally charged votes are more damaging to the integrity of the award in question. Consider the 2006 Best Documentary Winner, An Inconvenient Truth. Yes, the film impacted the debate on global warming, but it came out the same year as Deliver Us From Evil, a film far more powerful, well crafted and haunting. What will stand the test of time better, Al Gore running through a Power Point anecdote or a priest explaining away his dastardly deeds? Yet “Truth” had politics on its side – and the feel-good vibe from voters who thought they were changing the world with their vote.

The Oscar voting process got sillier last year when news spread that voters might not select Mo’Nique for her dazzling turn in Precious because she wasn’t playing by the unofficial Oscar rules. She went on to win all the same, but the thought of her tremendous work being negated for diva-like behavior is enough to rankle any movie fan.

The Oscars and other major awards still have inherent biases that hurt their credibility. Genres like horror, action and comedy rarely get the attention they deserve.

But every time a film like The Ghost Writer scoops up more honors than it deserves, or a politically charged documentary runs roughshod over far more compelling material, the awards category as a whole takes a hit.