16th Jan 2019

Poland chooses isolation over EU anti-death penalty day

Poland is continuing to veto the creation of a European day against the death penalty, further escalating its row with the rest of the EU club and earning itself an accusation of "moral decay".

On Tuesday (18 September), EU justice ministers failed to give the anti-death penalty day the formal go-ahead, saying Warsaw alone had objected to the idea.

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"Unfortunately, it was not possible to find a consensus among all the 27 member states", Portuguese justice minister Alberto Costa, speaking on behalf of his country's EU presidency, told reporters.

He added, however, this "does not mean that Europe is not committed to the abolition of the death penalty in the world and this position shall not change".

The EU had planned to mark a European Day against the Death Penalty each year on 10 October – in efforts to add to the weight of the World Day against the Death Penalty celebrated since 2003 as well as to gain a new symbolic tool when talking to pro-death penalty countries such as the US, China or African states.

But Warsaw has insisted that the EU "should approach the subject in a broader way and debate the protection of life" – something that would also include issues such as abortion and euthanasia.

It argues it is not necessary to establish a special day against capital punishment because it is outlawed throughout the 27-nation union. Instead it suggests celebrating a "right to life" day.

The Polish justice minister is said to have read out loud the number of abortions in Denmark, Sweden and Finland during the meeting.

Danish justice minister Lene Espersen said after the meeting that the rest of the EU club was "annoyed" by the situation.

"Politically, we sometimes do make some horse trading to get things sorted out, but I quite frankly think it is an expression of moral decay concerning the rejection of death penalty, which is something we have done for years", Ms Espersen said, according to the Danish press agency Ritzau.

The Portuguese EU presidency indicated, however, that a high-level international conference held in Lisbon on 9 October could be an alternative way of marking Europe's anti-death penalty stance.

"We are going to work in order to issue a strong message that will dignify the continent of Europe and also a country that 140 years ago abolished and never again used the death penalty", Mr Costa said, referring to his own country, according to AFP.

It is not the first time that Poland has decided to go it alone on an issue – it was an equally hardline negotiator during EU treaty negotiations in June.

Diplomats say they do not expect any sudden shift in Poland's stance, as the country is heading for early parliamentary elections in October, with the Law and Justice Party of current Polish prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski campaigning on a conservative platform.

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