Poland unmoved by EU rule-of-law sanctions
A month ago the Polish government led by the Law and Justice party PiS appeared to suffer two setbacks in its attempt to reform the judiciary. The first was president Andrzej Duda vetoing two of the laws reforming the supreme court and the national council of the judiciary - the top governing body of Polish judges. The second was the EU opening an infringement procedure against Poland on the argument that a third law reforming the lower courts fell afoul of the EU treaties. The Polish government appears to have gathered its strength during the summer recess and shows no signs of backing down.
This week its foreign ministry said in a statement that it had responded to the European Commission's separate request for clarification under the toothless "rule of law framework". According to Politico's summary, Poland told the Commission that its concerns over the judicial reforms were unfounded, as the reform was in line with European standards and responded to widespread popular demand in Poland. The response turns Duda's vetoes against the Commission by pointing out that some of the EU's concerns refer to laws that will not be coming into force in the form criticised by the EU.
In an entry published on his Polish politics blog during our summer break, Aleks Szczerbiak looks at the broader significance of Duda's veto. This was shocking because Duda, despite giving up his membership of PiS to give his presidency a semblance of nonpartisanship, had so far sided with the PiS government in all its controversies, including its ongoing confrontation with the constitutional court which started soon after the government took office in late 2015. Szczerbiak writes that Duda may have been motivated by a desire to widen his appeal beyond the PiS base, with a view to re-election in 2020. Also, despite public assurances to the contrary, Duda may have been influenced by the massive street demonstrations against the judiciary reforms. The blog cites polls showing that a majority of Poles support Duda's veto, despite the fact that the Polish public is dissatisfied with the workings of the judiciary as the PiS claims. Duda also supports the broader goal of reforming the Polish judiciary, and with his vetos appears to be setting up an alternative power centre to the party strongman Jaroslaw Kaczynski. But his actions could backfire as he now owns the judicial reform, having promised to produce his own proposal to resolve the issues raised by his veto.