Tuesday

21st Nov 2017

Polish politicians try to defuse political crisis

  • Poland's political crisis escalated after opposition MPs occupied the parliament's podium, blocking the assembly from working.

After a weekend of political tensions and street protests, Poland's opposition hopes the government will back down on its controversial reforms, and hopes to get some help from the EU.

Opposition leaders met president Andrzej Duda on Sunday (18 December) in a bid to ease the political stand-off, which boiled over last Friday, when opposition MEPs stormed the plenary hall podium to protest against restrictions to press freedom.

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In response, the parliament's speaker Marek Kuchcinski, from the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), moved a key vote on the 2017 budget to a smaller room, from which he barred media.

Opposition MPs say they couldn't vote, because they were only allowed to a fraction of the room and couldn't intervene in the debate.

"We aren't sure there was a necessary quorum to pass the budget bill, or that the speaker can stop the opposition from voting. That's why we are offering Law and Justice the possibility to redeem the situation. The next few days will show if they are willing to do so," Ryszard Petru, leader of the liberal opposition party Nowoczesna, told this website over the phone from Warsaw.

"We will see if they agree to another vote on the budget, or if the upper house and president press ahead with bill."

So far, Law and Justice have shown little cooperative spirit. Prime minister Beata Szydlo addressed the nation on Saturday, accusing the opposition of trying to destabilise the country.

But some PiS members struck a more conciliatory tone by the end of the weekend.

Ryszard Czarnecki, a European Parliament's vice president, said on Sunday there was need for all sides to "cool down".

"We have shown good will to solve the situation," he told EUobserver over the phone, and referred to the opposition's meetings with president Duda.

Petru, however, said it would take more to solve the crisis. "I met president Duda earlier today. But he's not empowered to take the decisions."

Another opposition leader - the Civic Platform's Grzegorz Schetyna - told a news conference on Sunday that he was ready to meet with PiS party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

EU probe

The latest development will feed into the European Commission's ongoing probe of the rule of law in Poland. It was launched almost a year ago, after PiS passed laws blocking the functioning of Poland's constitutional court, but has so far failed to produce any results.

Last Wednesday, commission vice-president Frans Timmermans told the European Parliament that the college would "soon" hold another debate on how to address the problems in Poland.

Poland could figure on the commission's agenda as early as Wednesday.

The commission could ask the Council, where member states are represented, to impose sanctions against Poland.

"The commission has started a rule of law probe; it should complete it," Petru said.

"But the crisis can only be solved in Poland," he added. "In the end, it's up to Law and Justice to address the commission's concerns."

Asked about the risk of a commission intervention, Czarnecki said: "I hope that the situation will be solved by Wednesday."

Poland's ombudsman, Adam Bodnar, meanwhile added the parliamentary crisis should be seen as yet another variation on the blockage of Poland's top court.

"The constitutional tribunal could determine whether the budget was passed in breach of law," Bodnar told EUobserver.

"But in the lack of a functioning court, we are left with the arguments of the political parties and the protesters. This is another example of the absence of rule of law creating tensions, which are completely unnecessary and very dangerous."

The article was updated on Tuesday 20 December to correct that "most opposition MPs" were not "barred" from the budget vote.

PiS MPs formed a "barricade" with their chairs preventing the opposition from accessing microphones, the Civic Platform's Agnieszka Pomaska explained over the phone.

On Monday, she was one of three lawmakers from her party to complain to the prosecutor that the parliament's guards had prevented the opposition from taking part in the vote. Also liberal MPs filed a complaint that they were unable to use their parliamentary rights.

The prosecutor's examination could show whether this was the case, or whether MPs didn't try to participate in the vote, as they didn't recognise it as legitimise and didn't want to add to the quorum.

MEPs urge tougher action on Poland

Dismayed by the lack of progress in solving Poland's rule of law crisis, some MEPs are demanding that the EU begins formal breach proceedings that could end up with Poland being stripped of voting rights.

MEPs put 'Article 7' against Poland on launch pad

MEPs urged Poland to comply with the EU treaties and to halt the 'reform' of the judiciary that could further undermine the rule of law in the country. Polish PM Beata Szydlo called the vote 'outrageous'.

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