Government interference with Constitutional Court and public broadcasting
Leaders of the European Union (EU) and several states and a substantial number of Poles are criticizing and deploring steps being
taken by government and Sejm which are undermining constitutional order, rule of law and are now threatening free speech and freedom of the press.
Keeping in mind when assessing the threat or significance, one isolated incident could be seen as an aberration or exception. When
similar developments continue, action is called for.
When the new president was elected in May [p. 6943], his affiliation with the populist, nationalistic, conservative Law and
Justice (PiS) party gave some cause for unease because of views of its leader and known attitudes by associates against Jews, Muslims, refugees and the EU. But
to demonstrate his impartiality, the president resigned from his party.
The PiS took office on 16 November and in rapid succession two symptomatic events showed that apprehension about its course was not premature. In the
next six weeks, the Constitutional Court was severely weakened if not sidelined and made impotent and under the guise of opening public media to Polish values
and views (as determined by the government) adopted a public media reform law.
The European Commission after warning Warsaw against tampering with the court and interfering with independent broadcasting without success is
considering stronger measures. The EU rarely interferes with national decisions but in the past it temporarily suspended Austria and has forced Hungary to
retreat on some of its policies.
Elections in Poland were held on 25 October for the 460-seat Diet and the 100-seat Senate in which 50.9 percent of registered
voters participated. The former opposition national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party won a slim single majority in the lower house moving the former
governing Civic Platform (PO) to second place and losing almost half of its mandates in the Senate. [p. 7137] PiS is led by Dr. Jarosław Aleksander Kaczyński
(born 18 June 1949), lawyer and one-time prime minister (2006-2007). He has made negative remarks about Jews and
migrants and resents close links to the European Union. In the past he has advocated creation of a 4th Polish Republic and adoption of a new
constitution creating a strong presidential system of government. Kaczyński is the power behind president and prime minister, according to press reports, and he
supports his hardline ministers or “hawks” on lessening EU and foreign influences, boosting defense against Russia, and removing courts from threatening
government actions and policies.
17 Nov. The president, before a court could rule on an appeal, pardoned a former
Kaczyński cabinet minister who was sentenced to three years in jail for allegedly contributing to corruption in 2007 when he headed the anti-corruption office
and which caused the government to collapse.
17 Nov. Resignations of four heads of intelligence services of the former government are accepted.
19 Nov. The appointment of five judges of the Constitutional Court by the previous legislature is
annulled by the Sejm, an action that is reserved for the Court. The legislature passed an amendment
authorizing proposal and appointment of replacements.
24 Nov. The European Union (EU) flag is removed from the prime minister’s weekly press conference to demonstrate
patriotism and cooling relations with the EU.
18 Dec. Defense ministry officials and military police stormed a NATO counterintelligence center in Warsaw
during the night and dismissed its head and staff to place the enter under its control.
22 Dec. Sejm by a vote of 235 against 181 and 4 abstentions approved a change of law requiring that in most cases 13 rather than 9 of the 15 judges of
the Constitutional Court must be present and that decisions must be reached by a two-thirds majority. (The Constitution provides for a single majority). The
President of the European Parliament characterized the country’s political situation as a “coup,” a remark for which the prime minister demanded an apology,
23 Dec. The First Vice President of the European Commission (EC) wrote to the foreign and justice ministers urging the government not to adopt the new
Constitutional Court measure since it would undermine the court.
28 Dec. President signed Constitutional Court bill into law.
30 Dec. Sejm by a vote of 232 against 152 and 34 abstentions passed a bill on reform of public media. To convert public radio and television stations
into “cultural institutes,” the tenure of all members of supervisory and boards of directors of stations are terminated and the National Radio and TV Council (KRRiT) will no longer select broadcasting heads. Future appointments and dismissals, will be the
responsibility of the minister of finance and the number of independent members of boards will be limited.