Polish Leader Says European Watchdog Visit Is ‘Meaningless’

Updated on
  • Venice Commission in Warsaw for latest on rule-of-law standoff
  • Kaczynski says watchdog ‘lacks objectivity and ignores’ laws

Poland’s most powerful politician criticized European democracy monitors as they began a two-day fact-finding mission in Warsaw.

The Venice Commission’s visit, ending on Tuesday, and its ensuing report will help determine whether the European Union’s executive in Brussels will extend an unprecedented procedure examining if Poland is adhering to the bloc’s democratic values. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling Law & Justice party and the power behind Prime Minister Beata Szydlo’s government, said the group “lacks objectivity and ignores Polish law.”

Poland has strained relations with allies in western Europe and the U.S. by passing legislation that critics say undermines the separation of powers and limits the ability of the country’s Constitutional Tribunal to vet laws. Concern that Law & Justice is backsliding on democratic norms and eroding the independence of key Polish institutions led S&P Global Ratings to cut the sovereign’s credit risk assessment this year.

“The matter of the commission’s visit is meaningless,” Kaczynski told reporters on Sunday. “We should treat the commission with great distance.”

Law & Justice won last year’s elections after promising to stand up to Brussels and pursue more nationalistic policies. The standoff could ultimately lead to Poland losing its vote on European laws and political decisions in the unlikely event that all other 27 EU members back the step. The row has no bearing on the billions of euros Poland gets as the biggest net recipient of the bloc’s budget.

Venice Report

Delegates from the Venice Commission, an advisory body to the Council of Europe human rights organization, are due to meet representatives of the Constitutional Tribunal and other courts as well as lawmakers, government officials and Poland’s ombudsman. The panel will prepare a report of its findings by mid-October, spokesman Panos Kakaviatos said by e-mail on Monday.

In July, the European Commission gave the country of 38 million people three months to respond to recommendations on restoring the court’s ability to effectively review legislation. Since then, Law & Justice has passed another revamp of the tribunal that fell short of meeting the Venice Commission’s guidance, and state prosecutors opened an inquiry over whether Chief Justice Andrzej Rzeplinski has abused his powers.

“We’ve had honest and good discussions today, which doesn’t mean we’re satisfied with the legal situation in Poland," Thomas Markert, the commission’s executive secretary, told reporters in Warsaw after meeting Adam Bodnar, the ombudsman.

The government has also refused to publish, and make binding, two rulings of the Constitutional Tribunal that struck down its legislation as unconstitutional, while President Andrzej Duda hasn’t sworn in three judges lawfully picked to the panel by the previous parliament, where Law & Justice was in the opposition.

“I can’t accept the fact that three legally elected judges haven’t been sworn in,” Bodnar said after the meeting.

(Updates with comments by democracy monitor, Polish ombudsman in eighth paragraph.)
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