European Commission launches probe of Poland’s “lex Tusk”

European Commission launches probe of Poland’s “lex Tusk”
Donald Tusk has said he will not appear before the special committee because it is an “illegal body”. / bne IntelliNews
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw June 9, 2023

The European Commission began a so-called infringement procedure against Poland for violating EU law by establishing a special committee to investigate cases of Russian influence on Poland’s internal security, the Commission said on June 8.

The legislation was adopted by the parliament and signed off into law by President Andrzej Duda in late May. While designed ostensibly to probe Russia’s influence – a hot issue as Poland is key Western country helping Ukraine battle Russian military aggression – the legislation is seen as potentially a handy tool to eliminate key opposition figures from running in the election later this year or severely damage their standing with the voters.

“The Commission considers that the new law unduly interferes with the democratic process,” the EU executive said in a statement.

The committee’s investigations and public hearings “[risk creating] grave reputational damage for candidates in elections and, by finding that a person acted under Russian influence, could limit the effectiveness of the political rights of persons elected in democratic elections”, the Commission  said.

According to the Commission, the new law provides a too broad and unspecified definition of what “Russian influence” and “activities” are.

Working along those unspecified lines, the special committee will have the power to bar individuals from receiving security clearance or “performing functions related to spending public funds” for a period of up to 10 years if the commission determines their decisions were influenced by Russia.

“These sanctions are applicable to behaviour which was legal at the time of conduct. Thereby the law violates the principles of legality and of non-retroactivity,” the Commission said.

There are fears that the bill could be an attempt at eliminating former Prime Minister Donald Tusk, the leader of the biggest opposition party, Civic Platform (PO), from running in this autumn’s election under trumped-up allegations served up by the special committee.

Tusk has said he will not appear before the special committee because it is an “illegal body”.

The Commission also pointed out that the special committee's decisions are subject to review only by administrative courts, which are limited to the requirement of respect for the law and cannot review the correctness of the assessment of facts and the weighing of evidence.

The committee will look at alleged instances of Russian influence that might have taken place between 2007 and 2022. The timeframe covers two terms of PO’s centrist government headed by Tusk in 2007-2015. He later became president of the European Council.

Tusk has been touring Poland for weeks canvassing support ahead of the election due this autumn. Some observers said that the public's perception of PiS targeting Tusk could boost the popularity of him personally and his party.

Following President Duda’s sign-off on the legislation, the EU and the US both criticised it heavily.

A few days later, an anti-government rally called by Tusk gathered an estimated 500,000 people in Warsaw and is seen as a potential turning point in the campaign ahead of the election due in October.

Poland has 21 calendar days to reply to the letter of formal notice. If it does not address the Commission's grievances, the Commission may decide to send a so-called reasoned opinion as the next step in the infringement procedure.