Poland Hails Own Democratic Record as Critical Report Looms

  • Government asked Council Of Europe to publish report in June
  • PM says leak of preliminary assessment weakens `credibility'

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo hailed the strength of Polish democracy as her government failed to delay the publication of a Council of Europe report set to say it’s at risk.

The European Commission started an unprecedented probe in January into whether Szydlo’s Law & Justice party was respecting the bloc’s democratic values, chiding lawmakers for overhauls of the country’s constitutional tribunal and public broadcasters. The government has rejected the accusations and asked the Council of Europe’s advisory body, the Venice Commission, to give an assessment.

After a fact-finding mission to Warsaw, the commission said that “not only is the rule of law in danger, but so is democracy and human rights,” according to newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, which on Saturday cited a preliminary report from the panel. While Poland’s government pushed to delay the report’s publication until June, the European Council said it will adopt the assessment next week as planned.

“It’s very bad that the initial assessment was leaked and published, because this hurt the Commission’s credibility,” Szydlo told reporters in Warsaw. “This gives a political context to the whole affair.”

She said that democratic norms weren’t being broken and that she favored resolving Polish political problems within Poland, not through international bodies. The Council of Europe expressed regret at the leak, and said it wasn’t possible to identify who was behind it, while vowing to present the commission’s report at a March 11-12 meeting.

Real Issue

“The real issue at stake” is “how to guarantee the continued effectiveness of the Constitutional Tribunal as a guardian of the Constitution” in Poland, the Council of Europe said in a statement on its website on Thursday.

Since sweeping to power after an October election victory, the Law & Justice party has riled Poland’s EU partners, banks, retailers and rating agencies with measures it says are needed to improve the lives of ordinary Poles. The most controversial steps relate to changes in the law governing the tribunal that have made it harder for justices to overturn government legislation that may violate the constitution.

President Andrzej Duda, a former party member, has also ignored a ruling by the tribunal saying he must swear in three judges appointed by the previous parliament. Instead, he swore in five nominees picked by Law & Justice just after it won October elections.

Law & Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski on Monday chastised the government for moving too fast with inviting the commission’s legal experts, fueling speculation that Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, who made the invitation, may be dismissed. It was the first time Kaczynski, who has eschewed a government post to be the power behind the throne, has publicly criticized Szydlo’s cabinet.

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