The Library attended a panel under the title: “Which way forward, Poland?” hosted by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Brussels. The latest developments in Poland were commented on by:
- Prof. Jean-Claude Scholsem, an expert from the Venice Commission;
- Ms Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz, a member of the Polish Parliament from the political party “Nowoczesna”;
- Mr Martin Mycielski, International Coordinator of the KOD (Committee for the Defence of Democracy).
Professor Scholsem opened the discussion by outlining a brief ‘report from the field’ on the work that the Venice Commission, an advisory body to the Council of Europe, has undertaken with regard to the amendments to the law governing the Polish Constitutional Court. New legislation raises the number of Constitutional Court judges who must be present to deliver a ruling from nine to 13 (out of a total of 15), and rulings must now be given by a two-thirds majority instead of a simple majority. The amendments also change the order in which cases are heard in the country’s top court.
Professor Scholsem recalled that it was the current Polish Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Witold Waszczykowski, who requested Venice Commission’s opinion on this issue. However, when it transpired that this opinion was tilting towards a neg
ative assessment, he complained that the Venice Commission had overreached itself . According to the Venice Commission’s final report, the drafting of the Constitutional Court law was unconstitutional. Not only is the current executive unlawfully replacing five of the fifteen judges, it has also made an attempt at changing the way the Constitutional Court works, i.e.. by introducing the rule whereby cases are dealt with chronologically as they appear and by increasing the majority with which the Court can reach a consensus on a particular decision.
Professor Scholsem also pointed out that the verdict of the Constitutional Court itself, laying down that these changes were against the rule of law, was not made public by the Polish authorities and was treated as a mere opinion, or even as outright rebellion.
Ms Gasiuk-Pihowicz underlined that Poland is currently undergoing a domestic political crisis and one can only expect a solution to come at the same domestic level. She also pointed out that the Court had been attacked on two fronts: the personal and the systemic. On the personal level, she indicated that the Constitutional Court had already been subject to unconstitutional actions from the former parliamentary majority, when five judges were chosen instead of three. Later on, the Court ruled that only three of them had been appointed legally, but the new President would not take the oath before them. Instead, all five judges were replaced. In her opinion, the systemic dimension further inhibits the functioning of the principle of the separation of powers, rendering it impossible for the Constitutional Court to control the executive branch. For instance, the rule that the Court needs to assess the cases chronologically would mean that it would take three years to start dealing with current legislation, therefore making it difficult for judges to challenge – or even review – government acts.
Mr Mycielski represents a grassroots’ civic movement, the KOD (Committee of Defence of Democracy), which could be described as the largest movement of this kind since Walesa’s Solidarność. He noted that these two movements, KOD and Solidarność, are similar in essence, though vary in context and mechanisms. A different technological and cultural setup has facilitated the creation of KOD and one of the main factors in its success has been its presence in social media. KOD was born of concerns by Polish citizens about breaches of the rule of law.
According to the speakers, in a survey carried out on completion of the first 100 days of the new government’s term of office, 52% of Polish society claimed to be against the government’s actions. It appears that the mood is becoming more fraught and that PiS’ (Law and Justice, the ruling party) is losing its appeal in the course of introducing controversial changes.
In the light of these developments, the KOD has devoted its attention to building a strong civil society by means of organised events, lectures and meetings. Mr Mycielski underlined that this movement is not willing, however, to become a political body. Its aim is to stand up for democracy and the rule of law and to inform the citizens of their rights. Mr Mycielski confirmed that KOD sees its mission also extending beyond Poland’s borders, as populism is also rising in other European countries.
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