Democratic Representatives Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Bill Keating, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment, have expressed “deep concerns” about Poland’s judicial reforms, identifying them as a threat to the country’s democratic institutions.
In a letter, the two lawmakers called on President Andrzej Duda to stop a measure passed by the lower house of Poland’s parliament in December that they said posed “a threat to judicial independence.”
“As long-time supporters of a strong U.S.-Poland relationship based on shared democratic values, we write to express our deep concerns about Poland’s judicial reforms, which fail to respect the principles of judicial independence and separation of powers,” the members said.
They added that they had “particular concerns” about the bill passed by the Polish Sejm in December, saying it “represents a threat to judicial independence, limits judges’ freedom of expression and association, reduces judges’ self-governance, and widens political control over the works of the courts.”
“Enacting this law would represent a significant step backward for Poland’s historically strong leadership in democratic reforms in Europe. The erosion of democratic principles would undermine the great strides Poland has made through the decades to build a modern, democratic country,” the members wrote.
They added: “We hope to see a vibrant Polish democracy flourish for its people and for Europe. However, Poland’s strength – like America’s – is based on respect for democratic traditions and values. For this reason, we urge you – as friends of Poland – to not sign this legislation.”
A Polish government spokesman in December criticised an “off the mark” appeal by the European Union’s executive for politicians in Warsaw to hold off from adopting a law that could see judges punished for questioning legal reforms by the country's ruling conservatives.
Poland's governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, which came to power in late 2015 and won a second term in power in October last year, has argued that broad changes are needed to reform an inefficient and sometimes corrupt judicial system marred by communist holdovers.
The changes have triggered a series of clashes between Warsaw and Brussels.
Poland’s prime minister said last year that some of the legal changes made by his conservative government have met with criticism abroad because they are not understood in Western Europe.
Source: TVN 24, dorzeczy.pl, foreignaffairs.house.gov