Polish Top-Court Row Endangers Democracy, EU Assembly Says

  • European Parliament is `seriously concerned' by standoff
  • Resolution adds to chorus of criticism of Poland's government

The European Parliament said democracy in Poland is imperiled by the country’s constitutional standoff, highlighting alarm across Europe over the Polish ruling party’s rush for greater state control.

The European Union assembly weighed into the controversy over the Law & Justice party’s drive to increase influence over Poland’s top court, which reacted last month by annulling the legislation. The government of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo has refused to heed the court ruling.

In a non-binding resolution approved on Wednesday in Strasbourg, France, the 28-nation EU Parliament said it “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.”

Since returning to power in October with an absolute parliamentary majority, the Law & Justice party has challenged democratic principles enshrined in the EU treaty and sparked warnings about a drift toward authoritarian rule that communism’s collapse in eastern Europe more than a quarter century ago was deemed to have ended.

Civil Liberties

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm in Brussels, started a probe in January of the Polish government’s democratic behavior -- making Poland the first country in the bloc to face such surveillance. The EU Parliament, a traditional champion of civil liberties, held a debate on the state of Polish democracy in the presence of a defiant Szydlo a week later.

Among other controversial actions, Szydlo’s administration has made it harder for the Constitutional Tribunal to overturn laws, while Polish President Andrzej Duda ignored a court order to swear in three judges picked by the Civic Platform party that lost power in last October’s elections.

“The actions taken by the Polish government and the president of the Republic of Poland with regard to the Constitutional Tribunal represent a risk to constitutional democracy,” the EU Parliament said in its resolution on Wednesday.

The 751-seat assembly said it hopes that the commission inquiry, dubbed a “structured dialog,” leads the Polish government to address the concerns over its democratic behavior.

In a separate decision on Wednesday that also highlights European uneasiness over Poland, the EU Parliament rejected a Polish nominee -- Janusz Wojciechowski of the Law & Justice party -- for the European Court of Auditors because of doubts about his political independence. The European Court of Auditors checks the EU’s finances. Wojciechowski is a member of the EU Parliament, where he is vice chairman of the agriculture committee.

“While Mr. Wojciechowski has professional competence, there are major doubts about his political independence,” said Igor Soltes, a Slovenian Green party member of the assembly. “This left Parliament with little choice but to oppose his candidacy.”

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