Poland Urged to Back Down in Democracy-Standards Row With EU

  • European Parliament weighs in for second time since April
  • Warsaw faces end-October deadline to act on recommendations

The European Parliament pressed the Polish government to compromise in a dispute over democratic values, saying the country must end a “constitutional crisis” and strengthen the rule of law.

The European Union assembly said the government of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo should restore the Constitutional Tribunal’s ability effectively to review legislation. In a non-binding resolution, the 28-nation Parliament supported an end-October deadline for Poland to act on recommendations made as part of the first EU probe of a member country’s democratic behavior.

The resolution, approved on Wednesday in Strasbourg, France, marks the second time since April that EU lawmakers have weighed into the controversy over the Polish Law & Justice party’s drive to increase influence over Poland’s top court. The latest text repeats a warning by the assembly five months ago that the constitutional standoff endangers democracy in Poland and expresses fresh concerns about “recent and rapid legislative developments taking place in other areas without proper consultations.”

“This goes right to the heart of what the European Union is all about,” Sophie in ’t Veld, a Dutch member of the 751-seat EU Parliament’s Liberal group, told the assembly in a debate before the vote. “This is big.”

Democratic Principles

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.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm in Brussels, started an inquiry 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, has given the commission political support.

“You might describe it as the growing pains of a community of values that is developing,” said In ’t Veld, who spoke on Tuesday. “We readily accept that the European Commission intervenes in matters of tax evasion, state aid or not respecting the environmental standards.”

The Polish government responded to the EU Parliament resolution on Wednesday by accusing the assembly of seeking to restrict the freedom to act of a democratically elected national administration.

“This is a new form of censorship,” Polish Deputy Justice Minister Marcin Warchol told TVN24 television. “It shows how much this Parliament is detached from reality.”

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