Poland's High-Court Move Unnerves EU, but Not Many Voters

Jul 23, 2017, 00:43
Poland's High-Court Move Unnerves EU, but Not Many Voters

Poland is poised to dissolve a key separation of government powers, as President Andrzej Duda is expected to sign a bill that puts the nation's Supreme Court under the control of the ruling party, despite citizens' protests and pleas from allies in the European Union and U.S.

The sweeping powers to dismiss and appoint the country's judges backed by the ruling Law and Justice Party do not bode well for civil and political liberties in Poland.

In an unexpected break with his former party, Duda said he would only sign the KRS reform if lawmakers amended the bill so that judges are approved by 60 percent of parliament, rather than a simple majority, as is proposed in the bill's approved version. Opponents say the legislation will destroy judicial independence and violate the rule of law.

At the same time, many thousands of Poles are protesting against their power-hungry, authoritarian regime in Warsaw.

The Supreme Court bill still needs approval from the Senate and from Duda, who hails from the ruling party.

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A crowd in front of the Presidential Palace, carrying Polish and EU flags responded by chanting, "Free Poland, European!"

This in turn could lead to Poland losing its voting rights in various European Union institutions. The opposition argues the measures amount to a "coup d'etat" but the PiS says the reforms are essential to rationalise the judicial system and fight corruption. "We will not allow ourselves to be pushed out of the European Union".

Szydlo insisted the government will not bow to pressure "from Polish or from foreign defenders of the interest of the elites".

Critics at home and overseas say the legislation is part of a drift towards authoritarianism by the government, which espouses nationalist rhetoric coupled with left-leaning economic policy.

Last week, parliament passed another bill that ends the terms of current members of the National Council of the Judiciary, one of the main judicial bodies, and gives parliament the power to choose 15 of its 25 members. "What is going on with the Polish, but also with the Hungarian and Turkish court systems clearly shows that the rule of law isn't self-evident, and that standing up for it is always relevant", Pikamäe said.

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Since coming into power in 2015, the PiS has sought to tighten government influence over courts, and brought prosecutors and state media under direct government control.

The second bill was approved by the lower chamber of Parliament Thursday-triggering the pro-democracy protests-but still must be approved by the upper house, then signed by Duda, to take effect.

Senator Aleksander Bobko, of the right-wing PiS party, said that ending the term of the first Supreme Court president was an obvious violation of the constitution. The poll was conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday, amid large street protests against the party's plan for the judiciary.

In Poland, past presidents, activists and rights groups were among those to speak out against the judicial reforms, raising concerns about the erosion of laws and freedoms in Poland.

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