Poland tests rule of law

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS -

POLAND is due to host a NATO summit next month, pro­vid­ing its eight-month-old gov­ern­ment an op­por­tu­nity to bask in in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion and cel­e­brate the al­liance’s bol­ster­ing of its eastern de­fences. Un­for­tu­nately, the rul­ing Law and Jus­tice party and its leader, Jaroslaw Kaczyn­ski, are in dan­ger of poi­son­ing their own show­case. Rather than un­der­line NATO’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to stand up to a height­ened threat from Rus­sia, the summit may be de­railed by a di­vi­sive de­bate over an­other threat — to democ­racy and the rule of law in Poland. If so, Mr. Kaczyn­ski and his party will have only them­selves to blame. Since tak­ing of­fice last fall un­der Prime Min­is­ter Beata Szydlo — Mr. Kaczyn­ski chose to rule from be­hind the scenes — Law and Jus­tice has moved ag­gres­sively to bring Poland’s se­cu­rity ser­vices, the state me­dia and, most trou­bling, the ju­di­ciary un­der its con­trol. The aim ap­pears to be to push Poland down the same quasi-au­thor­i­tar­ian path blazed by Hun­gary’s Vik­tor Or­bán, who has cur­tailed me­dia, civic and re­li­gious free­doms while pro­claim­ing his con­tempt for lib­eral democ­racy.

In ad­di­tion to prompt­ing the rise of a mass do­mes­tic op­po­si­tion move­ment, Mr. Kaczyn­ski’s ma­noeu­vrings have now drawn the cen­sure of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. Shortly af­ter tak­ing of­fice, the new gov­ern­ment sought to re­voke sev­eral ap­point­ments to the court, pack it with its own nom­i­nees and change its pro­ce­dure to re­quire that its rul­ings be backed by a two-thirds ma­jor­ity of the jus­tices. When the court found these ac­tions un­con­sti­tu­tional, the govt re­fused to ac­cept its de­ci­sion. The EU rul­ing was not pre­cip­i­tous; it came af­ter months of dis­cus­sions and ne­go­ti­a­tions led by Frans Tim­mer­mans , the com­mis­sion’s first vice pres­i­dent. Un­til re­cently, it ap­peared a com­pro­mise could be struck un­der which Law and Jus­tice would give ground on the court’s mem­ber­ship and yield on the vot­ing rules. But Mr. Kaczyn­ski re­treated from the deal, thereby forc­ing the com­mis­sion’s hand. Now Poland must re­spond to the EU find­ing or face at least the the­o­ret­i­cal pos­si­bil­ity of sanc­tions. The EU ac­tion has been greeted with pub­lic de­fi­ance by Mr. Kaczyn­ski and his cir­cle, some of whom ap­pear to be­lieve they can ride out the cen­sure. The cock­i­ness is short­sighted. Whether or not the com­mis­sion’s process goes for­ward, Poland’s be­hav­iour could well dis­cour­age some NATO govts from sup­port­ing or con­tribut­ing to a plan to sta­tion troops and equip­ment in Poland in or­der to de­ter Rus­sian ag­gres­sion. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, which has been a prime pro­moter of that plan, will no doubt stick to it. But Pres­i­dent Obama should be pre­pared to force­fully and pub­licly chal­lenge the Law and Jus­tice govt over its demo­cratic vi­o­la­tions if it does not cor­rect them be­fore his ar­rival in War­saw. Mr. Kaczyn­ski must un­der­stand that his poli­cies threaten to wreck re­la­tions with the US, un­der­mine Pol­ish se­cu­rity. — The Wash­ing­ton Post

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