European Parliament orders Poland’s government to reverse changes to country’s top court
The European parliament has passed a motion ordering Poland’s ultra conservative government to reverse changes to the country’s constitutional court which have left it paralysed.
The motion, passed on Wednesday, with 513 votes in favour and 142 against, says that recent changes to operations of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal “have given rise to concerns regarding the ability of the Constitutional Tribunal to uphold the constitution and guarantee respect for the rule of law.”
Actions taken by the Polish government “represent a risk to constitutional democracy,” the motion says, adding that the European parliament “is seriously concerned that the effective paralysis of the Constitutional Tribunal in Poland poses a danger to democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
In the month before the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) came to power last autumn, the previous government tried to illegally sneak two extra appointees onto Poland’s constitutional court.
Soon after it assumed office, the new PiS government responded by ripping up the appointment process, loading the court with its own people, and changing the way the court works.
The court itself – which decides whether new laws are constitutional – ruled on 9 March that those changes were illegal.
Constitutional court judge Stanislaw Biernat said at the time: “Dramatically limiting the court’s ability to function independently and thoroughly contravenes Poland’s [political] system and cannot be tolerated.”
However, prime minister Beata Szydło said the court did not follow due procedure and deemed the ruling as invalid leaving the country in legal limbo.
The government also refused to publish the ruling.
On 11 March, the Venice Commission – an advisory body of the Council of Europe, made up of independent experts in the field of constitutional law, said in a report that a refusal to publish the tribunal’s judgment from 9 March “would not only be contrary to the rule of law, such an unprecedented move would further deepen the constitutional crisis.”
It continued: “Not only the Polish Constitution but also European and international standards require that the judgements of a constitutional court be respected.
“The publication of the judgment and its respect by the authorities are a precondition for finding a way out of this constitutional crisis.”
Wednesday’s motion echoes the views expressed by the Venice Commission and “urges the Polish government to respect, publish and fully implement without further delay the Constitutional Tribunal’s judgement of 9 March 2016.”
Meanwhile, rating agency Moody’s released a report warning that Poland’s new government has “increased domestic political risk and [has] the potential to reverse fiscal improvements”.
Poland’s government has dismissed the motion as biased and confrontational.
A government spokeswoman told Global Government Forum:
“The government acknowledges the resolution. We consider it to be biased and to present a simplified picture of the situation in which the Constitutional Tribunal now finds itself in Poland.
“The document does not say how the problem with the Constitutional Tribunal came about – unlike the Venice Opinion, it does not even mention the activities undertaken by the previous ruling coalition.
“The wording of the resolution is confrontational and will not bring us closer to solving the Constitutional Tribunal crisis.
“We regret to note that the resolution fails to mention the current parliamentary majority’s readiness to engage in actions leading to a compromise and the fact that the political process in Poland was initiated only by the parliamentary majority.”
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