With New Moves, Poland May Not Qualify as Democracy

Ruling party's effort to stack the courts brings condemnation from the EU
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 21, 2017 10:42 AM CDT
With New Moves, Poland May Not Qualify as Democracy
Opposition supporters protest in front of the presidential palace, urging President Andrzej Duda to reject a bill voted by lawmakers on court control, in Warsaw on July 20..   (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

The ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) in Poland is trying to fundamentally alter the nation's court system with a spate of new bills that would give the government the power to force out the nation's top judges and replace them with those appointed by parliament—where the PiS has a slim majority. Just how radical are the changes? If they go through, the European Union says Poland may no longer qualify as a democracy, reports the New York Times. The laws "would abolish any remaining judicial independence and put the judiciary under full political control of the government," says a VP of the European Commission. Related coverage:

  • What's next: The bills are expected to sail through the PiS-controlled Senate and land on the desk of President Andrzej Duda, reports the AP. In a surprise move, however, Politico reports that Duda wants to water down the measures before approving them.
  • The rationale: PiS chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski, seen as Poland's "de facto leader" by the Economist, says the reforms are needed because the courts are "subordinated to foreign forces" and also too inefficient. But critics say the PiS is looking to put into place a judicial rubber-stamp for its policies.
  • 'Nuclear option': Because of the moves, the EU is close to triggering its never-before-used Article 7 against Poland. The so-called "nuclear option" could lead to the suspension of Poland's voting rights, reports the Guardian, though such a move requires the unanimous consent of member nations, and Hungary is unlikely to go along.
  • The danger: A court system run by the government "could enable the government to falsify elections, to evade corruption investigations, to prosecute opponents," writes Anne Applebaum in a Washington Post column.
  • Getting personal: In fiery debate in Parliament, an opposition member said that former President Lech Kaczynski—the late brother of the current PiS leader—would never have approved of such changes. "Don't wipe your treacherous mugs with the name of my late brother," Jaroslaw Kaczynski shot back. "You destroyed him, you murdered him, you are scoundrels." His brother was killed in a suspicious 2010 plane crash. That prompted another lawmaker to describe Kaczynski as "crazy with hate."
(More Poland stories.)

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