Thursday

21st Nov 2019

Obama: Poland should do more to solve judicial crisis

  • Obama (l) told Duda (r) he "recognised that parliament is working on legislation … but more needs to be done” (Photo: President Andrzej Duda's official Facebook page)

US president Barack Obama gave bad press to Poland’s government when he rebuffed its efforts to solve the country’s constitutional crisis as insufficient.

Obama had a tete-a-tete with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda before the opening of Nato’s summit in Warsaw.

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"I expressed to president Duda our concerns about certain actions and the impasse around Poland's Constitutional Tribunal," Obama told reporters afterwards.

"I recognised that parliament is working on legislation … but more needs to be done,” the US president said.

Duda, who was standing beside him, did not comment.

His ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party last year paralysed the country’s constitutional court by trying to fill it with judges of its own choice. The government also refused to recognise the court’s verdicts after the dispute broke out.

The European Commission opened a monitoring procedure on rule of law in Poland earlier this year because of the judicial crisis.

Obama recalled that an independent judiciary was the buttress of democracy.

"As your friend and ally we urge all parties to work together to sustain Poland's democratic institutions," he said. "That's what makes us democracies, not just ... the fact that we vote in elections, but the institutions we depend on every day such as rule of law, independent judiciaries."

The Sejm, the lower house of the parliament, rushed through a bill reforming the constitutional court ahead of the Nato summit.

Under the law - which still needs to be rubber-stamped by the upper house and by Duda - the government will recognise all the court’s rulings except one, a key one which invalidated its reforms.

MPs also insisted that the court welcomes the PiS-loyalist judges and gives ay four judges the right to block a case for four months if they wanted to. Duda also got a bigger role in appointing the next president of the court.

Andrzej Rzeplinski, the court’s current president, said he was ”sorry that Barack Obama had to make such a statement.”

”But he had to”, the judge added.

The bill also got the cold shoulder from Nils Muiznieks, the human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

“I am very concerned at the adoption by the Polish Sejm of a bill on the constitutional tribunal yesterday because it poses a serious threat to the rule of law,” Muiznieks said on Friday.

”In my recent report on Poland, I expressed concern at the current paralysis of the constitutional tribunal because of its negative impact on the protection of human rights … However, the bill adopted by the Sejm yesterday goes in the opposite direction,” he said.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who was also in Warsaw, remained quiet on the issue.

But Donald Tusk, the EU Council chief and a former Polish prime minister, issued veiled warnings that if Poland undermined democratic values it would undermine its relations with the US and harm Nato.

A Commission spokeswoman in Brussels the same day said the EU scrutiny of Polish rule of law would continue.

”The Commission is following the legislative development in Poland very closely," she said.

"We note that the law on the functioning of the tribunal has not yet been finally completed. This was just one step in the procedure. We will of course assess the law once it has been finally adopted."

The Polish government previously rubbished the EU scrutiny as something that the commission “made up” and that has no basis in EU law.

Laurent Pech, a professor of European law at Middlesex University in London, told EUobserver that nothing formally precluded the commission from assessing a draft bill, or from communicating to the Polish government whether its bill addressed concerns over the state of rule of law.

”One may hope that the commission’s monitoring of Poland will not end at this stage," Pech said.

"We need to make sure that a legislative act, which takes due account of the criticism of the commission and also of the Council of Europe, is adopted and properly implemented. Then and only then should the commission consider whether the time has come to no longer monitor the situation in Poland.”

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