Polish president sets out own changes to court, constitution

AP News
Posted: Sep 25, 2017 11:32 AM
Polish president sets out own changes to court, constitution

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's president on Monday proposed his own changes to the nation's top judicial bodies and the constitution in a dispute that is at the heart of a standoff with the European Union.

President Andrzej Duda suggested substantial legislative changes that could curb what the EU and other critics say is a power grab by Poland's ruling party to take control of the courts.

Duda's plans could help ease the conflict with the EU, but may also put him on a collision course with the ruling Law and Justice Party.

In July, prompted by street protests and EU criticism, Duda vetoed two bills proposed by the ruling party and promised to hammer out his own plans. That angered party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who said that would delay the reforms he's pressing for. He says the courts need to be more efficient and fair.

Duda argued at the time that the party's bills on the Supreme Court and a top judicial body gave the party and the justice minister, who is also prosecutor-general, too much power over judges.

Duda's proposals strengthen the president, by giving him the power to appoint and dismiss judges. They call for a large majority of lawmakers to choose members of a key judicial body, the National Council of the Judiciary. They also reject the justice minister's plan to immediately fire all current Supreme Court judges.

Duda also proposed that Poles should be able to make official complaints about final court verdicts that they find unjust.

His proposals need to be approved by the parliament, which is currently controlled by the ruling party.

Duda was meeting with party leaders for consultations late Monday to sound out the level of backing for his proposals. The main opposition Civic Platform was the only party to reject the invitation, saying Duda's proposals were unsatisfactory and "against the constitution."

In Brussels, EU authorities held a debate Monday on ways of ensuring that Poland observes the rule of law.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said afterward officials will study Duda's proposals "very carefully," adding: "There's still a lot, a lot, we need to do before we can say that the problem has been solved."

Earlier Monday, Kaczynski said that his recent talks with the president over his proposals exposed a "far-reaching difference of views."

Kaczynski's words suggested a growing rift between the ruling party and Duda, who won the presidency in 2015 on the party's ticket and had fully supported the party's policies, even in defiance of the EU, until July.