Saturday

16th Feb 2019

'Survival of democracy' at stake in Poland, say top MEPs

  • Laws recently passed and other proposals under discussion are "in violation of the Polish Constitution but also against fundamental principles of the EU treaties", EU parliament groups leaders say.

Leaders of the main political groups in the European Parliament have called on EU institutions to "speak out and act" against the latest reform of the judiciary system in Poland.

"The survival of democracy and the rule of law is at stake," they said in a letter to parliament president Antonio Tajani.

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They said that recent laws passed by the Polish parliament and the proposed reform of the Supreme Court "significantly weaken the independence and impartiality of the Polish judiciary… as well as separation of powers in Poland."

"This is not only in violation of the Polish Constitution but also against fundamental principles of the EU treaties," they added.

They pointed out that the measures would "not only mean that the rule of law is abolished in Poland but also that democratic elections cannot be guaranteed anymore."

Last Friday (14 July), the Polish parliament passed two laws that granted authority to the government to select 15 out of 22 judges on the National Council of the Judiciary, which supervises judicial ethics, and appoint district and appeals court judges.

A third bill still under discussion would allow the justice minister to choose the Supreme Court members.

The new laws have led to thousands of people demonstrating in Warsaw and other Polish cities over the weekend.

The letter was signed by Manfred Weber (centre-right European People's Party), Gianni Pittella (Socialist and Democrats), Guy Verhofstadt (liberal Alde), Gabi Zimmer (left-wing GUE/NGL), and Philippe Lamberts and Ska Keller (Greens).

It was not signed by the far-right group nor by the European Conservatives and Reformists group, to which Poland's ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) hails.

The EU parliament groups leaders "urge" the European Commission to "act now and clearly outline the consequences of adoption of these laws."

They've requested Tajani to ask that the commission calls on the Venice Commission - an advisory body of the Council of Europe on constitutional issues - "to urgently review" the new laws.

"Last but not least, we should call on the president of Poland not to sign the two adopted laws, and on the Polish Parliament to withdraw the draft concerning the Supreme Court," the letter also stated.

The situation in Poland will be discussed by the college of EU commissioners on Wednesday.

'Great concern'

"The commission follows these events with great concern," the EU executive spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on Monday.

He insisted that the commission was in a "dialogue" with the Polish government as part of the rule of law probe that was launched last year over a previous reform of the Constitutional Court.

"The dialogue of course is meant to lead to a solution," said Schinas.

He also said that threats against Brussels-based Polish journalist Dorota Bawolek were "unacceptable".

Bawolek, from the Polsat private broadcaster, was accused by the state TV channel TVP of asking “provocative” questions at a commission daily briefing last week. She received insults and threats afterwards.

"We have a particular duty of care to all members of the press who are accredited to EU institutions, Schinas said. "We would like everybody else to have the same respect for you."

He said he hoped attacks against Dorota Bawolek were "rather a one-off event and that it will not continue."

Poland 'leaving EU community of values'

Leading MEPs and legal watchdogs have raised the alarm on Polish judicial reforms, but the European Commission declined to speak out so far.

Feature

Gay rights at heart of Poland's value conflict

Anti-gay statements are part of an anti-EU narrative propagated by Poland's ruling Law and Justice party. But only a few politicians from the opposition are willing to challenge the image of Poland as a homophobic country.

Polish parliament steps up showdown with EU

Lawmakers in Poland adopted a controversial reform of the Supreme Court, despite warnings from the EU that the move could trigger a sanction procedure over the rule of law.

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