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Poland relents on two out of three reforms

Poland’s president Andrzej Duda has responded to three days of demonstrations against proposed changes to the court system. He has blocked two out of three of them. The ruling conservative PiS (Law and Justice) party introduced the reforms. They would have involved the dismissal of Supreme Court judges, with new appointments made by the parliament.

Poles protest in Berlin against court reform Poles protest against court reforms at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. Photo: Matylda Falkiewicz

Thousands of Poles held candlelit vigils in Warsaw and other cities, and hundreds of their compatriots in Germany gathered at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin at the weekend to voice their opposition to the shake-up.

Duda’s veto followed a stern warning from the European Commission’s first vice-president Frans Timmermans, who threatened disciplinary action against the Polish government. This could include the suspension of EU voting rights. Timmermans said: "These laws considerably increase the systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland. Collectively, they would abolish any remaining judicial independence and put the judiciary under full political control of the government." Poland already received an EU warning in 2016 over media reform (more...).

Surprise and optimism - but protests continue

Press freedom campaigners in Poland welcome the move. The main opposition newspaper "Gazeta Wyborczka" comments: “This is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, a third law has not been vetoed, which gives a very high degree of power to the minister of justice over the court“.

One of the Berlin protestors, Matylda Falckiewicz, told ECPMF: “To be honest I am very surprised about President's decision. No one knew he has this courage! It's very optimistic but knowing this government we should remain conscious and see what happens next. Anyways we need one more veto.“ Protestors with flags, candles and white roses plan to keep up the pressure until the third court reform is also blocked.

Posting on Facebook, Polish journalist Christina Zaba, who is based in Bristol, UK, commented: “Weirdly most people in Poland actually support the PiS government. I visited last week and that was what struck me“.

During ECPMF’s 2016 fact-finding misson to Poland, "Gazeta Wyborczka"’s Wroclaw political correspondent Mateusz Kokoskiewicz stated: “Without the constitution we would have no press freedom and no rule of law. Poland is based on the American system, with separation of powers: Executive, Legislative and Judiciary. We respect that PiS won the election but that does not give them the right to change the constitution.“

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