MS Risk Blog

Poland’s President Vetoes Judicial Reforms in Wake of Major Protests

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On Monday 24 July, Polish President Andrzej Duda announced that he is vetoing a controversial law to replace Supreme Court judges with government nominees. The move comes after a number of major protests in the capital Warsaw, and with warnings from the European Union (EU).

In recent weeks, three key judicial reforms were passed by Poland’s parliament, which prompted days of demonstrations across the country. Before they become law, they are required to have approval by the president. On Monday, in a statement broadcast on national television, President Duda stated, “as president I don’t feel that this law would strengthen a sense of justice,” adding “these laws must be amended.” He went on to say that he was vetoing two of the new laws, but that he would approve the third, which effectively gives the justice minister the right to name the heads of Poland’s lower courts.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) government has strongly rejected claims that the reforms are a move towards authoritarian rule. It has now expressed disappointment at the president’s decision to wield a veto. While President Duda had already intervened last week in an attempt to find a compromise, his latest step does come as a surprise. Last week, the president’s initial compromise watered down the government’s bid to push through its nominees for the National Judiciary Council, by requiring the support of another political party. Opposition MPs have also praised the role of protesters in influencing the decision. Demonstrations have taken place in dozens of cities across the country, from Poznan and Lublin to Krakow, Gdansk and Warsaw and there have been calls for the protests to continue.

The changes also set Poland’s right-wing government on a collision course with the EU. The European Commission had threatened to impose sanctions this week if the reforms were not scrapped. European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, had warned of a “black scenario that could ultimately lead to the marginalisation of Poland in Europe.”

The Proposed Reforms 

Poland’s judicial system is widely seen as being slow, with reforms seen as being necessary. President Duda has stated, “I’m absolutely a supporter of this reform, but a wise reform.”

The three reforms give the justice minister and MPs broad powers and have prompted alarm from both the United States and the EU.

What Next?

In theory, the Polish parliament could now challenge the president’s veto. The Law and Justice party has a simple majority in the lower house of parliament, known as the Sejm, but needs a three-fifths majority if it decides to reject President Duda’s decision. IT could theoretically achieve this with the support of a smaller party, such as Kukiz’15, however this is not seen as being certain. A more likely step would be to spend the next weeks redrafting the two bills that the president has turned down and seek his approval. While the protest movement has celebrated its success so far, demonstrators are now pushing for the president to veto the third reform as well. Much now will also depend on the man who is seen as the real power behind the government, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.