U.S. Senators Urge Polish Leaders to Uphold Democratic Norms

Updated on
  • McCain, Cardin, Durbin write letter to Polish prime minister
  • New Polish laws on top court and media triggered EU probe

Poland’s new leaders are eroding the country’s democratic record through laws that give the government new powers, three U.S. senators said in a letter to Prime Minister Beata Szydlo.

The dispatch by Senators John McCain, Benjamin Cardin and Richard Durbin follows an unprecedented move by the European Union’s executive last month to start a probe into whether rule of law is under threat in Poland. After winning an October general election, the Law & Justice party overhauled the country’s constitutional tribunal, making it more difficult for justices to overturn laws. It also placed public media and prosecutors under direct government control, fueling concerns that it was dismantling the system of checks and balances upholding the nation’s democracy.

“We are writing to express concern about recent actions taken by the Polish government that threaten the independence of state media and the nation’s highest court, and undermine Poland’s role as a democratic model for other countries in the region still going through difficult transitions,” the senators wrote in the letter, dated Feb. 10.

While Law & Justice pledged to take Poland out of the EU mainstream and has cooled relations with power broker Germany, the criticism is troubling because the new government is counting on the U.S. to shore up its security as part of the NATO alliance. The party’s power grab also contributed to Poland’s first ever credit-rating downgrade last month, with Standard & Poor’s expressing concern about the independence of institutions under the new administration.

‘Accurate Information’

Szydlo replied by saying the senators’ comments are “surprising” and result of a “lack of accurate information” about the latest events in Poland, according to website. The government has long said the changes it’s implementing are those Poles voted for in last year’s election and it’s not breaking any laws.

The letter was inspired by “people who don’t wish Poland well,” Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski told reporters in Brussels when asked about the issue. Waszczykowski said last month that he’s seeking to resume talks with the U.S. on developing a missile-defense system in Poland, a NATO member from 1999.

Law & Justice, which won both presidential and parliamentary elections last year, is also on a collision course with Brussels. The biggest beneficiary of the EU budget, Poland opposes taking in migrants beyond the roughly 7,000 agreed by Poland’s previous government and refuses to reduce reliance on its coal industry, which runs foul of EU carbon-emissions norms.

“An erosion of democracy in Poland would undermine liberal institutions that have successfully expanded prosperity, peace, stability and tolerance within Europe at a time when these institutions are greatly needed,” the senators wrote.

(Updates with response from Poland's government from fifth paragraph.)
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