Poland Starts Debate on Top Court’s Overhaul to Quiet EU Dispute

  • Ruling party’s proposal fails to address several EU concerns
  • Opposition says discussions are ‘smoke screen,’ not compromise

Poland’s parliament began debating legislation to overhaul the Constitutional Tribunal as the ruling party seeks to quiet the country’s biggest-ever row with the European Union, triggered by its previous revamp of the court six months ago.

Lawmakers discussed three proposals, including one submitted by the ruling Law & Justice party, to change the way the Tribunal functions after the EU’s executive arm called on the government to restore the court’s ability to effectively review and overturn legislation. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the ruling party’s leader, said he expects speedy passage of the new bill, even as the opposition said the debate is a “smoke screen.”

Poland has fallen out with its allies in Brussels and Washington amid concern it’s backsliding on democratic values under Law & Justice, accusations the government rejects. Kaczynski is moving ahead with the legislation after the EU told Poland to take action to ensure that rule-of-law is not undermined, and before U.S. President Barack Obama and other western leaders visit Warsaw for a NATO summit next month.

“I hope that the overhaul will be approved in July,” Kaczynski told reporters Thursday. Asked if his party was willing to compromise, he said: “There’s a will. We went very far.”

The bill drafted by Law & Justice doesn’t address EU concerns such as the government’s failure to implement the Tribunal’s ruling that struck down its previous overhaul and President Andrzej Duda’s refusal to swear in three justices who were lawfully picked by the previous parliament.

Pure ‘Chutzpah’

Its legislation proposes giving the prosecutor general, a government minister, additional powers over the court, handing him the right to define “particularly complex cases” requiring additional justices to take part in rulings. It also seeks to maintain a period of several months before the Tribunal can rule on whether a new law is constitutional.

The ruling party has moved quickly to consolidate power after winning October’s elections, taking over public media, public prosecutors and seeking to increase its sway in the judiciary. In response, S&P Global Ratings handed the sovereign its first ever downgrade in January, while the performance of the zloty currency is lagging its peers in east Europe this year.

“We don’t want to take part in this chutzpah,” said Ryszard Petru, leader of the Nowoczesna opposition party. Law & Justice doesn’t want compromise but to just “use this as a smoke screen for the European Commission, to show the world that Poland is working on resolving this issue,” he said.

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