Sunday

21st Apr 2019

Polish government promises constitutional reform

  • Poland's president Andrzej Duda celebrating Constitution Day. (Photo: Grzegorz Jakubowski/KPRP)

Poland's ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has called for a public debate on updating the constitution, amid a bitter row over the government's attempts to reform the constitutional court.

President Andrzej Duda called the constitution a "work in progress” that reflected "times passed".

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"Not everything could be regulated properly, we cannot let that pass on the current agenda," he said.

He said the nation should come together in a debate on how to update the text.

Duda was speaking on Tuesday (3 May) - a public holiday when Poles celebrate the short-lived 1792 constitution. The current basic law dates to 1997.

The president, who represented PiS as an MEP before winning the presidency last year, has already said there should be better protection of families, especially those with disabled children, hinting at a possible constitutional ban on abortion.

”Where are the standards that would really define modernity in the current world?” he asked.

”How is it possible that the constitution and the constitutional court are supposed to defend civil rights, but still it is possible to raise the retirement age for Poles, and they have no protection against it? Who wrote the constitution and how is it guarded?”

Earlier this year, the EU started monitoring the rule of law in Poland in a special procedure after PiS reformed the constitutional court.

The law increased the number of judges required to make a decision valid, and changed the order of cases.

PiS said the reforms were needed to reflect the new balance of power, but the judges said the court had been paralysed.

PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski used Constitution Day to announce a constitutional review beginning in 2017.

His party currently lacks the two-thirds majority needed to change the basic law, but he said that could change after the next election.

In the meantime, his party will plan possible changes.

”We have a lot to offer to the Polish society. We can really achieve a great victory,” he told a conference in the Polish parliament on Monday.

But PiS critics say their reforms risk creating a dual legal system because the government is refusing to accept rulings made by the constitutional court, but several lower courts have said they will follow the constitutional court’s rulings rather than those from the government.

European Commission’s vice president Frans Timmermans postponed a planned travel to Warsaw on Saturday (7 May) to follow up on the rule of law procedure.

Many Poles demonstrated on 3 May in support of the rule of law.

In Warsaw, a dozen activists from the Committee in Defence of Democracy protested in front of the presidential palace.

They held up a placard of the first page of the Polish constitution with a footprint of a shoe on it. They urged the president not to trample on the constitution.

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