Poland Overhauls Courts, and Critics See Retreat From Democracy

 In U.S.

Charles A. Kupchan, an adviser on European affairs during the Obama administration, said the new laws were “yet another sign of the rising tide of illiberalism that has taken hold in Central Europe.” He called the changes “inconsistent with democratic norms and values.”

The court overhaul poses yet another headache for the European Union. Its leaders are already grappling with Britain’s plans to exit the bloc, a separatist movement in Spain and disagreement over how to address the migration of immigrants into Europe. And all this is taking place against the backdrop of political uncertainty in Germany, the most influential member of the European Union.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, remarked on Twitter that it was “a difficult day” not just for Poland but for the whole bloc. He said he had invited the Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, to Brussels for talks.

The commission’s warning will also be seen as a clear signal to other countries in the region — including the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia — that to varying degrees have seen voters embrace populism.

The signing of the law is unlikely to lead to any immediate punishment for Poland — like a suspension of its voting rights. For the bloc to issue such a sanction, the 27 other member states would have to agree. Hungary, which has clashed with Brussels over laws cracking down on nonprofit groups, the press and the judiciary, has vowed to veto any such effort.

Photo

Lawmakers in Warsaw passing a bill this month to make major changes to the judicial system.

Credit
Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta, via Reuters

In a speech to the nation on Wednesday evening, Mr. Duda rebuffed critics, arguing — with merit, even critics acknowledge — that the judiciary in Poland has long been seen as sluggish and removed.

“This view that it’s an abuse of democratic standards is unfounded,” Mr. Duda insisted. “It’s the opposite. What is happening is a deepening of democracy. The judges will no longer rule themselves. They aren’t some extraordinary caste; they are servants of the Polish people.”

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