Poland turns its back on EU criticism

By bne IntelliNews June 15, 2016

Poland will not respond to the European Commission’s critical opinion on the state of its rule of law, a government spokesman said on June 15.

The Commission issued the opinion on June 1, after coming to the conclusion that Poland’s ongoing constitutional crisis, which pits the government against the Constitutional Tribunal (TK), is far from solved. The opinion was part of an ongoing probe into the state of the rule of law in Poland. That could – in theory – end in suspending Poland’s voting rights in the 28-nation bloc, although such an escalation seems highly unlikely.

The Commission gave Poland until June 15 to respond when it published the opinion. However, government spokesman Rafal Bochenek said Warsaw will not meet the deadline. A response might come after Poland – which considers the issue an internal matter over which Brussels has no authority – works out a way out of the crisis, he added.

Warsaw and Brussels have been at odds over the government’s efforts to consolidate its power over insitutions in Poland practically since the first day that the Law & Justice (PiS) party took power in November. In particular, the fight with the TK - which has all but frozen the ultimate check within the country on a party with a majority in parliament - has sent alarm bells ringing. 

PiS's power grab has also claimed a number of other institutions, including state-owned media and virtually all state-controlled companies. It has led to a deterioration of the investment climate, with S&P cutting Poland’s credit rating in January and Moody’s changing its outlook to negative. Both agencies underlined political issues in their rating updates.

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe’s Comissioner for Human Rights issued a critical report on protection of human rights in Poland on June 15. The report claims recent legal developments in Poland – including the tussle around the TK, as well as a controversial law giving police forces more surveillance power – “threaten human rights and undermine the rule of law, on which the protection of human rights ultimately depends.”

The report also called for Warsaw to step up efforts to reduce gender inequality, tackle domestic violence, ensure mandatory sexual education, grant better access to contraception and abortion, as well as reduce length of judiciary proceedings.

The populist, rightwing government - which plays up its connections to the country's enthusiastically Catholic population - responded with comments suggesting the report was biased. Warsaw charged the Council of Europe with using a “selective description of events, [which] makes it hard to perceive the Commissioner’s activities as being unbiased and apolitical.”

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