Wednesday

24th Jan 2018

Poland must reverse judicial changes, say experts

  • Szydlo defended PiS reforms at a European Parliament debate on Poland in January (Photo: European Parliament)

Poland’s right-wing government should reverse its reforms to the judiciary for the sake of democracy, a panel of constitutional experts says.

The Venice Commission, which advises the Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, issued its appeal in a draft opinion sent to Polish authorities and leaked by Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza over the weekend.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

It comes after Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party last year removed judges from the constitutional tribunal on the grounds that they were installed by the opposition Civic Platform party.

The PiS reforms also required a higher number of judges to take decisions, making it harder for the tribunal to vet new laws.

But the tribunal itself rejected the changes, creating a legal limbo in which the government does not recognise the validity of the country’s highest court.

The Venice Commission's draft opinion said the “constitutional crisis” meant that “not only is the rule of law in danger, but so is democracy and human rights”.

It said Polish MPs should “revoke” changes such as the removal of judges, which the tribunal itself had “declared unconstitutional”.

It said PiS reasoning on the need for pluralism of judges was wrong because “such a claim misunderstands the role of pluralism in a constitutional tribunal, which is not to represent political interests and parties”.

It also said the other changes could “slow down” the tribunal’s decisions and make it “less effective as a guardian of the constitution”.

It added that judicial checks and balances were “especially important in times of strong political majorities”, alluding to PiS' dominant position in parliament.

Non-binding

The European Commission had urged the Polish government to request the Venice panel's advice.

Polish PM Beata Szydlo told Polish TV on Saturday that her office was studying the draft text and that the Venice body will file its final conclusion on 12 March.

She noted that its findings would not be legally binding.

“Poland is a sovereign country and Polish authorities take decisions relating to its internal affairs in a sovereign manner, directed by the national interest on the basis of the constitution,” she said.

She said it was a “routine” matter for the Venice panel to scrutinise EU countries, noting that its previous work covered Hungary and France.

Polish president Andrzej Duda said he would not comment on leaks.

But he said that if the Venice body itself gave the document to Gazeta Wyborcza then it would cause him “grave concern”.

EU scrutiny

Civic Platform MPs said the Venice text meant the government should do a U-turn or face greater EU scrutiny.

“If the Polish government decides not to fall in line with the Venice Commission opinion, after having itself requested it, it will be a reason for the European Commission to continue its procedure,” Rafal Trzaskowski, a Civic Platform deputy, said, referring to an EU rule-of-law monitoring process on Poland launched earlier this year.

Andrzej Halicki, another Civic Platform MP, said: “This is one of the toughest Venice Commission opinions ever.”

Saturday’s leak came amid broader concerns on PiS governance.

The party has, in its first 100 days in power, extended control over state TV and radio broadcasters and given police extra snooping powers.

It is also planning to boost state control over Poland’s economy and to restrict foreign ownership of Polish firms.

Warsaw march

The developments saw tens of thousands of people take part in an anti-PiS rally in Warsaw on Saturday.

Mateusz Kijowski, the founder of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy, the NGO that organised the event, said: “We've come to make it clear that freedom and democracy are the most important values guarded by the constitution.”

The rally coincided with PiS-led allegations that Lech Walesa, the former leader of the anti-communist Solidarnosc movement, himself spied for communist authorities.

"We also want to show our solidarity with Lech Walesa, who symbolises the victorious struggle for freedom and democracy in Poland, Europe, and around the globe,” Kijowski said.

Grzegorz Schetyna, the head of the Civic Platform party, told the crowd: “We came here to defend a symbol of Polish history against hate.

“We are defending Poland against [PiS leader] Jaroslaw Kaczynski. We will not allow Poland to be taken over.”

Opinion

Poles must defend hard-won democracy

The Law and Justice party is chipping away at Poland's hard-won democracy. Now polls are showing that many people are unhappy with the changes, and a new alliance around the Committee for the Defence of Democracy has sprung up.

Poland's constitutional dispute escalates

Activists have begun camping outside the prime minister's office in Warsaw after the government refused to recognise a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal.

Opinion

Moment of truth in Polish constitutional dispute

The Venice Commission report, out on Friday, gives the ruling PiS party a chance to retreat from their illiberal course. The EU should seize the moment to support PiS moderates.

News in Brief

  1. Auditors criticise EU economic governance implementation
  2. Dutch environment group appeals air quality ruling
  3. Commission opens case into Polish railways state aid
  4. EU remove eight places from tax havens blacklist
  5. UK to keep forces in Germany over Russia fears
  6. Finnish presidential vote could go to second round
  7. Report: EU might pay Brexit residency fees for EU citizens
  8. Puigdemont free to travel around EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Free AlllianceNo Justice From the Spanish Supreme Court Ruling
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  3. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  5. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  7. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  8. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  9. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  10. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  11. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  12. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit

Latest News

  1. Berlusconi in Brussels on pre-election charm offensive
  2. ECJ should rule against Austrian online censorship lawsuit
  3. EU states loosen grip on tax havens
  4. Facebook promises privacy reboot ahead of new EU rules
  5. Europe is lacking tech leadership
  6. Spitzenkandidat system here to stay, MEPs warn capitals
  7. MEPs to keep 28 UK seats after Brexit
  8. Norway defends new Arctic oil drilling

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted
  2. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  3. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  4. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  5. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  6. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  7. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  8. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  9. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  11. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  12. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City