Poland’s prime minister has made a televised speech defending the ruling party’s controversial reorganization of the country’s legal system that includes giving politicians influence over the judiciary, including the country’s top court, AP reports:
Beata Szydlo said Thursday night that the legislation was a result of public criticism of the legal system’s inefficiency and blamed the public outcry it has triggered on the “frustration” of the opposition. The opposition says the changes are unconstitutional and destroy judicial independence.
Poland’s drift ‘backwards and to the East’ has put the European Union on alert, the FT notes.
The problem is that the EU doesn’t really have the tools to deal with a member state that is threatening to leave the path of democracy,” says Marcin Zaborowski of Visegrad Insight. “The EU has a stick to deal with aspirant members, but once countries are members, there is a limit to what it can do to persuade them to change course.”
Three former Polish presidents, including Lech Walesa, have released a manifesto against the proposed changes, saying “we do not consent to taking away our basic civic freedoms.” And a coalition of more than 175 artists and scientists signed an open letter on Wednesday calling the government’s move a “coup d’état,” The New York Times adds:
With the legacy of the Solidarity movement, Poland entered the post-Soviet era with a head start on other post-Soviet nations politically, and its strong agricultural sector allowed it to quickly emerge as an economic success.
But its status as a regional star has been endangered by the rise of the Law and Justice Party. Since assuming power in late 2015, the party has moved to co-opt or weaken potential rivals, beginning with the Constitutional Tribunal, which could have declared its moves unconstitutional. Now dominated by government supporters, the tribunal provides a reliable rubber stamp for government initiatives.
“This is a call for a right-wing revolution,” said Jerzy Stepien, the director of the Institute of Civic Space and Public Policy at Lazarski University, and a former president of the Constitutional Tribunal. “If we have people in power who feel themselves above the law, we are in a revolutionary situation.”
Having a packed supreme court could enable the government to falsify elections, evade corruption investigations, and prosecute opponents, said Anne Applebaum, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.
Subjugation of the courts to political control is seen as ‘a denial of European values’, the FT adds.
“The judicial overhaul casts a dark cloud over Polish democracy, as it quashes the division of powers and the independence of courts,” says Wawrzyniec Smoczynski, managing director of Polityka Insight. “The silver lining is that it also mobilizes younger Poles to defend their freedoms and might encourage them to step out of political apathy into a more conscious citizenship.”
In 1990, at a moment of historic transition, the countries of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe adopted a watershed agreement recognizing the relationship between political pluralism and market economies, notes the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission:
To advance both, they committed to fundamental principles regarding democracy, free elections, and the rule of law. In recent years, however, concerns have emerged about the health of the democratic transition in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in the face of ongoing governance challenges and persistent corruption.
At this briefing, speakers will examine the current state of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe and analyze efforts to address the region’s challenges. They will also discuss the declaration adopted on June 1 by civil society representatives, members of business communities, and others, which seeks to reinvigorate the region’s democratic trajectory, support democratic and economic reform, and strengthen the transatlantic partnership.
DEMOCRACY IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE: RENEWING THE PROMISE OF DEMOCRATIC TRANSITIONS
Wednesday, July 26, 2017 2:00PM to 4:00PM Capitol Visitors Center Room SVC-215
The following panelists are scheduled to speak:
Andrew Wilson, Managing Director, Center for International Private Enterprise
Peter Golias, Director, Institute for Economic and Social Reforms, Slovakia
Andras Loke, Chair, Transparency International, Hungary
Marek Tatala, Vice-President, Civil Development Forum, Poland
Additional comments will be provided by:
Jan Surotchak, Regional Director for Europe, International Republican Institute
Jonathan Katz, Senior Resident Fellow, German Marshall Fund
Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission