Judicial reforms in Poland: Resistance from Duda

In a surprise move in the row over the PiS's proposed judicial reforms, Poland's President Duda has threatened to use his power of veto. The president let it be known that he would only sign the law on the nomination of judges to Poland's Supreme Court if his amendment is accepted. The fight over the independence of the Polish judiciary enters the next round - and continues to fill the commentary sections.

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Newsweek Polska (PL) /

President must prevent dictatorship

Commenting on Duda's intervention Newsweek Polska says it doesn't go far enough:

“Two laws are on the president's table right now. … Both make the courts subordinate to the executive, which violates the principle of separation of powers enshrined in the constitution. And what has the president done, the supposed guardian of the constitution? Instead of announcing a veto against both laws he's proposed a rotten compromise. … If the president signs [the law on the supreme court] Poland will become a country in which not just the police and the public prosecutors are subordinate to the government, but also the courts. This paves the way for a dictatorship.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Kaczyński's cultural revolution

Le Monde looks into the deeper motivations behind the PiS's course:

“Under the leadership of the party chairman - the very secretive Jarosław Kaczyński - the PiS has set itself the goal of freeing Poland from decadent Westernisation imposed by the EU and bringing the country back to its fundamental Catholic identity. ... Kaczyński doesn't hide the fact that he is waging a cultural and ideological battle. ... In the service of his revolution he wants a strong state, stripped of the machinery of counter-powers that characterises the 'Western' democracies. He would almost say he is inspired by God. The question is whether such a state has its place in a Europe that takes its inspiration from Montesquieu.”

Der Standard (AT) /

No understanding of democracy

The Polish government has failed to grasp key aspects of democracy, Der Standard criticises:

“It's about a basic understanding of the fact that in a democracy the opposition is not just a necessary evil, but a necessary corrective. That critical media and critical art don't destabilise a society but rather facilitate a discourse that ultimately ensures stability. And that an independent judiciary isn't there to constrict a government but to legally guarantee its decisions. Intoxicated by power, Poland's leadership isn't capable of such abstractions. It's up to the citizens themselves to patiently continue this debate.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

Not even Trump would dare do that

The PiS's plans defy imagination, Lidové noviny writes:

“The politicisation of the judiciary is always a hot topic. Take the US, for example. But not even Donald Trump would think of simply replacing all the judges in the country's top court. And if he did he wouldn't say it out loud. Children learn about the division of powers in primary school. Kaczyński's Poland, however, wants to prove that things can be done differently. This idea has nothing to do with conservatism or liberalism, it's a pure product of radicalism. ... And we're all too familiar with radicalism from the 1960s: 'We don't know what we want, but we want it now!'”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

EU states must do more than issue rebukes

The standards of the rule of law form the foundations of the EU and therefore are non-negotiable, warns the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:

“A member state where the rule of law no longer prevails basically no longer belongs in the EU. … But to a certain extent Poland is everywhere. Because it's a bad European practice to appeal to Europe and its solidarity only when you need these two things, but to otherwise uphold national sovereignty despite the fact that the EU members have relinquished power and submitted to mutual supervision. … Therefore the EU must continue to closely monitor and assess the developments in Poland. For their part the other member states must lead by example and show Poland (and also Hungary) on a daily basis how they expect it to deal with its judiciary and its press.”

Gość Niedzielny (PL) /

Protests demonstrate opposition's weakness

The protests attended by thousands of demonstrators on Sunday were organised by the Committee for the Defence of Democracy whose chairman is a Solidarność veteran. Gość Niedzielny doesn't believe the protestors have the power to change anything:

“This is a tiny little protest compared with the Independence March [organised each year by nationalists] or the rallies in defence of [pro-PiS television channel] TV Trwam, for example. And the organisers and the rest of the left-wing elite in Poland know it. They are aware that the current demonstrations testify to their weakness rather than to a strong force of social outrage. But they have nothing else to offer. No positive programme. The only demand they have managed to come up with is stripping the PiS of its power. So they're in a fatal situation.”

Polityka (PL) /

On the way to becoming a democratorship

For Polityka the reform of the judiciary marks the end of Poland's liberal, constitutional democracy:

“So far Kaczyński hasn't used violence against the opposition or the people. And the social organisations, media, universities and cultural centres that are independent of the PiS are still acting legally. So we're half way between a Western, liberal, constitutional democracy - which has essentially already been dismantled - and a hybrid, a so-called democratorship.”

Wpolityce.pl (PL) /

Traitors and communists protested

The PiS MP Krystyna Pawłowicz has this to say about Sunday's anti-government protests in Wpolityce.pl:

“The traitors who called on foreign powers to intervene in Poland [i.e. the calls for the EU to stop the Polish government's plans] were applauded by other traitors. The whole affair was unaesthetic, dishonest, demagogic, demented and drenched in hatred. The speakers were aggressive and extremely frustrated at their complete powerlessness and because they themselves don't have any positive proposals. ... The communists and post-communists [the liberal opposition] went berserk on Sunday, because they have lost their power, influence and access to [state] funding. They once again reared their perfidious, anti-democratic heads outside the Sejm, putting their culture of barbarity on full display.”

Der Tagesspiegel (DE) /

Europe losing its hold over Poland

The EU has few means at its disposal to react effectively to developments in Poland, Der Tagesspiegel fears:

“After the shake-up of the Constitutional Tribunal, the EU began a dialogue with Warsaw and introduced a 'procedure on the rule of law' which even foresees the withdrawal of voting rights in the Council of the European Union. But at present the Union is a toothless tiger: the unanimity such a move requires would fail because of Hungary's announced veto. What remains is public reprimands, recommendations due to 'the distinct danger of a serious breach of the Union's fundamental values', and perhaps even a fine. But all of that can't hide the fact that where there's no will, there's no way. Since the founding of the EU our neighbour Poland has perhaps never been as far away as it is now.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Sun going down for Poland

For Gazeta Wyborcza this is the demise of the rule of law:

“On Wednesday the PiS members of parliament suspended judicial independence and subordinated the judiciary to the absolute power of [Justice Minister] Zbigniew Ziobro, who is seeking to avenge himself against the courts. This is the end of the rule of law. ... As of now anyone appointed by Jarosław Kaczyński can be spat on in the state television's evening news programme, his phone can be tapped, he can be charged, arrested, sentenced and found guilty in any court of law. ... The holiday season is here and people are soaking up the sun on beaches, barbecuing and drinking beer. But the sun is going down over our country. The best 27 years in the history of democratic Poland are coming to an end. The age of authoritarianism is dawning.”

Wpolityce.pl (PL) /

Reform for more justice

Reviewing the misdeeds of Polish judges in the past the pro-government portal Wpolityce.pl calls for radical reform:

“Just look at the arrogance and impunity of the judges, with their decadent morals. Does a judge who steals a USB flash drive, swaps price labels or takes a sausage out of a store have the right to pass judgement on others? … Why are children taken away from their mothers because they are poor or overweight? The Polish judiciary is in a deplorable state. Only radical reform can restore justice.”