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A Fresh Assault on Rule of Law in Poland

Senate Should Heed Council of Europe’s Advice and Reject Flawed Legislation

Picture shows Poland's constitutional court in Warsaw, Poland, January 11, 2016. © 2016 Reuters

The Polish government’s assault on the rule of law continues unabated.

Last week the lower house of the Polish parliament adopted two draft laws that would force most of the Supreme Court into retirement, and give the ruling party control over judicial appointments. The government, which has a parliamentary majority, went ahead without waiting for the advice of the Council of Europe’s legal advisory body, the Venice Commission.

To makes matters worse, the Venice Commission issued its opinion the very same day of the vote, and concluded that the proposed amendments to the acts on the National Council of the Judiciary and the Supreme Court put at “serious risk” the independence of “all parts” of the Polish judiciary. Its opinion makes clear that the new versions of the draft law, proposed by Poland’s president, are little better than the initial ones proposed by parliament over the summer which the president vetoed.

The amendments still need the Senate’s approval, expected this week, before being signed into law by the same president who proposed them. Whether the decision to move on the amendments without the Venice Commission’s opinion was a deliberate act of defiance or just a bizarre coincidence, the Polish government can still do the right thing and halt their adoption. If it ignores the warning issued by the Venice Commission this will only confirm that the Polish government has no interest in dialogue or cooperation with European institutions on matters pertaining to rule of law and human rights.

This is just the latest in a two-year authoritarian slide by the ruling Law and Justice party, which since coming to office has systematically eroded checks and balances and undermined human rights while ignoring pleas from the European Union and Council of Europe to change course.

Both the EU Commission and the European Parliament have flagged that they are ready to move from failed dialogue to action, and trigger Article 7 of the EU treaty against Poland, which could lead to the suspension of Poland’s EU voting rights.

If this latest blow to rule of law in Poland isn’t blocked by the Senate or the President, EU institutions should make good on their words and trigger Article 7 action against Poland.

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