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Poland’s President Pulls Country Back from Brink

Andrzej Duda Vetos Laws Giving Executive Control Over Judicial Independence

Protesters gather in front of the Parliament building during a protest in Warsaw, Poland, July 16, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

It was a positive and welcome surprise: after days of mass public protests, campaigning, and international expressions of concern, Polish President Andrzej Duda on July 24 vetoed two troublesome laws passed by the country’s parliament earlier this month.

The laws would have given Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) control over judicial appointments and also severely curbed the independence of the Supreme Court, by forcing the dismissal of its judges. Regrettably, however, Duda has said that he intends to sign a third law, passed by parliament 12 days ago, which gives the country’s justice minister the power to appoint the presidents of all lower courts.

By using his veto, Duda has sent the laws back to parliament for a fresh vote, likely to happen when it reopens in September. Two conditions need to be met for the laws to pass. Firstly, at least half the members of parliament need to participate in the vote, and secondly, the act can only be adopted with a three-fifth majority. As the PiS only has a simple majority in parliament, it would need to rely on other parties to push the laws through.

The European Commission and European Union member states should press Duda to veto the law on appointing presidents for Poland’s lower courts, because doing so would allow the government to exert undue influence on the judiciary – a violation of the principle of separation of powers and of EU standards.

They should also continue to press the Polish government over its prior curbs on the rule of law, particularly on the composition of the country’s Constitutional Tribunal and the government ignoring its rulings, moves that breach EU values.

To protect the independence of the judiciary and rule of law in Poland, the president should veto the troublesome lower courts law. And he should oppose future legislation that threatens to violate the rule of law, the Polish constitution, or EU law.

While welcome, Duda’s vetoes leave work to be done.

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