Will PiS get away with law dismissing judges?

In defiance of a new law that obliges 27 of the country's 73 Supreme Court judges to retire, the latter turned up for work as usual on Wednesday morning. The EU has accused Poland of seeking to "systematically weaken the rule of law". The dismantling of democracy could harm Poland for years to come and be copied in other countries, journalists fear.

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Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Democracy will suffer for a long time to come

The PiS is governing with a sledgehammer, Rzeczpospolita complains, fearing Poland's democracy could suffer lasting damage:

“Yes, the PiS achieves its goals. Yes, the government's effectiveness is impressive. But this is happening at the expense of the Poles' understanding of democracy: they are being led to believe that democracy is limited to elections, because those who win the election may then turn the country on its head. ... Such undemocratic thinking contaminates not only the PiS's supporters but also its opponents. They will demand that the next government overturn the country as comprehensively as the PiS has done and construct its own version of reality on the debris.”

Aftonbladet (SE) /

Front row seats for dismantling of rule of law

The consistent phaseout of democracy in Poland should serve as a warning, Aftonbladet writes:

“The PiS kicked off the legislature period with the announcement that Poland is now rich enough to invest in the people. It raised child benefit and reversed the increase of the retirement age introduced by the previous government. ... The people feel they are being taken seriously, not forgotten. ... In Sweden [where two months before the parliamentary elections the right-wing Sweden Democrats are the second-strongest party in the polls] we can look on as the rule of law is dismantled in a modern-day constitutional state. It takes three things for a party to topple modern democracy: popular discontent, an enemy, and a tight grip on power. In Sweden only the last factor is lacking.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

Dismantling of democracy on the agenda

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung sees Poland on its way to becoming an authoritarian state and warns of the repercussions this could have for the EU as a whole:

“This is a danger for the community that should not be underestimated. And it has nothing to do with the euro crisis or migration, but with the ideology of a nationalist-populist party. Even if the ruling party in Warsaw, the PiS, is fond of using the topic of migration as a weapon: its leaders wanted to undertake their current assault on liberal democracy long before the topic was this far up the agenda. PiS is simply demonstrating more clearly than like-minded parties in other Western and Eastern European countries, from the Lega Nord and the FPÖ to the AfD and the Front National, which way the train heads when this camp gains influence.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

A historic moment

Commentator Wojciech Czuchnowski, on the other hand, believes that change will soon come to Poland. In Gazeta Wyborcza he movingly describes how demonstrators cheered on the head of the Supreme Court when she arrived at work in defiance of the retirement law:

“The people who have gathered outside the Supreme Court over the last few days have rightly come to the conclusion that two powers - the legislative and the executive - are making an assault on the third power, the judiciary, in violation of the constitution. ... Never before have judges experienced such huge support from normal people. This was a great moment. Is it an awakening? I sense a change in the air. This is something those in power must fear, despite their propaganda lies. People say of such moments that they are historic.”

De Telegraaf (NL) /

Farm subsidies the last lever against Warsaw

De Telegraaf explains how the EU can considerably up the pressure on Poland:

“Poland has received tens of billions in subsidies from Brussels. In the new budget due to come into effect in 2021, the European Commission plans to set terms that countries must fulfil if they want to receive funding. If a country starts playing fast and loose with the rule of law, it can say goodbye to money from the Agricultural Fund or the Regional Development Fund. Germany and the Netherlands are strongly in favour of such a move. It will be a tough fight, but in the end here too the rule is: he who pays the piper calls the tune.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

This is not what the PiS promised

The Polish government should be careful not to go too far with its judicial reform, warns the editor-in-chief of Rzeczpospolita, Bogusław Chrabota:

“The PiS has explained that it is simply fulfilling the expectations of the voters and its election pledges. Back then it promised to reform the ineffective justice system. ... These were demands that deserved to be supported. ... But no one talked in the election campaign of violating the constitution, no one announced personnel purges in the constitutional court or the supreme court, no one talked of a fundamental conflict with the European institutions. If these things had been announced in the election campaign, Poland would probably have a different government today.”

El País (ES) /

Don't leave Polish protesters in the lurch

The EU must support the Polish citizens, El País demands:

“Poland is passing laws that weaken the separation of powers, take the country in a dangerously authoritarian direction and collide with EU values. ... A big country with a painful and brave history is renouncing the best achivements of its own fight for democracy and is falling into the hands of a nationalist and ultra-conservative government that wants to control the judiciary in the most obscene manner. ... The EU is fulfilling its duty by launching infringement proceedings against Poland. It is imperative that the Polish citizens who are demonstrating against their government's anti-democratic abuses receive an unequivocal message of support from their friends and European partners and can rest assured that the EU will not abandon them.”