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Poland’s President Offers New Path to End Court Crisis

The bills will be presented to Parliament on Tuesday, beginning what promises to be weeks of debate while opponents most likely stage protests and try to derail the process.

On Monday, the immediate reaction was muted. Both the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party and its opponents promised to study the proposals, though all sides found something to criticize.

Law and Justice said the proposals were not entirely acceptable, but were good enough to provide a start for further debate. “We will work on this legislation so that it is acceptable for us and the president,” said Ryszard Terlecki, head of the party’s parliamentary caucus.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the ruling party’s undisputed leader, offered no comment on Monday about the new proposals. Mr. Kaczynski handpicked Mr. Duda as his party’s presidential candidate.

Mr. Duda noted that his proposals, if enacted, might be unworkable without a change to the Constitution giving him more power to appoint judges. Analysts said it was doubtful that any party, including Law and Justice, was interested in amending the Constitution at the moment to give Mr. Duda more power.


In July, Poles took to the streets in Warsaw to protest earlier court legislation. Credit Kacper Pempel/Reuters

“I am afraid we are back to square one,” said Marcin Matczak, a professor of law at the University of Warsaw. “This proposal from Duda changes nothing and Law and Justice will just use it to promote its own ideas in Parliament.”

Law and Justice officials have said that reforms are urgently needed to fix what they describe as an unpopular and sclerotic court system. Domestic opponents and European Union officials have accused them of trying to subvert the rule of law by placing the courts more firmly under the control of the right-wing ruling party.

Mr. Duda’s draft laws came just a day after a populist, right-wing party drew enough votes to enter the German Parliament, and on the same day European Commission officials were meeting in Brussels to discuss whether Poland was violating democratic standards.

The coming weeks of debate over the Polish court laws – and the potential return of the mass street protests that filled streets across in July – ensure that friction between the European Union and the more populist and authoritarian governments in the East will persist through the autumn.

Czech parliamentary elections scheduled for the end of October also promise to turn largely on attitudes toward Brussels, particularly rules forcing member nations to accept refugees.

“I think it’s going to get very serious,” said Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society European Policy Institute in Brussels. “I get the sense Kaczynski is going all out there, kamikaze, and he’s going to keep going.”

In Brussels, Frans Timmermans, the senior vice president of the European Commission, said commissioners reaffirmed their demand at a meeting on Monday that Warsaw comply with the bloc’s democratic norms.

The commission has threatened to invoke against Poland a never-before-used article in the European Union treaty to punish members who violate democratic or human rights standards, potentially resulting in economic sanctions or even a loss of voting rights. Mr. Timmermans said that the commission would study Mr. Duda’s proposals and that it was eager for negotiations with Warsaw to resolve the crisis.

Meanwhile, Law and Justice officials have indicated the party will also try to pass laws later in this parliamentary session to regulate foreign ownership of private media outlets and to restructure the way provincial and local elections are conducted. Critics say the proposals are designed to cement the party in power.

The best hope, Ms. Grabbe said, is that any efforts to dilute the rule of law or subvert the union’s democratic standards will be opposed by so many Poles that the ruling party backs down — as it did in late 2016 when tens of thousands took to the streets to oppose a government-backed law outlawing all abortions.

Law and Justice had tried to fast-track its court bills in July, approving them without hearings or debate under an expedited schedule. This time, party officials said, the bills would go through regular hearings and debate, probably lasting for weeks and forcing opponents to calculate how to structure its protests to avoid losing steam.

For the ruling party, altering Mr. Duda’s proposals raises the risk of another round of vetoes.

“If they do change his proposals, the president said he will veto the bills again,” said Jan Grabiec, spokesman for Civic Platform, the leading opposition party. “It’s a very important political declaration, because I believe he will do that. If he signs such bills now, he will lose the entire political capital he has recently built and he will never get it back.”

Source: NYT > World

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