Opinion: Poland is playing with fire in reforming the Constitutional Court | Opinion | DW | 23.12.2015
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Opinion: Poland is playing with fire in reforming the Constitutional Court

Jaroslaw Kaczynski's national-conservative party wants to secure power by reforming the Polish Constitutional Court, in order to push its agenda through unimpeded. This is a short-sighted move, says DW's Bartosz Dudek.

It may not yet be a "coup d'état by stealth," as the opposition has claimed, but the latest developments in Poland are certainly grounds for concern. After barely four weeks in office, the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party is pushing a law through parliament with breathtaking speed - a law that will have far-reaching consequences for the balance of power in Poland. The Constitutional Court is the institution that examines laws to ensure that they conform to the constitution. It may not actually be paralyzed as a result of this law, but it will be considerably slowed down.

Questionable haste

Even if some of the provisions in the new law do seem sensible, it is the way the law has come into being that is the greatest cause for concern. Something as important as the reform of the Constitutional Court should not be dealt with in haste. The suggested solutions should be analyzed in detail, expert opinions sought, compromises agreed on. Yet there has been none of that. The law was rushed through parliament in a matter of days and will probably come into force with immediate effect before the end of the year. This is not the way considered democratic decisions are made.

The most important questions are: Why does the PiS need the Constitutional Court to be reformed, and what may be the long-term consequences for democracy?

Dudek Bartosz Kommentarbild App

Dudek Bartosz head of DW's Polish department

In the short and medium term, the reform of the court will extend the power of Kaczynski's party, and make it easier for him to implement his political agenda. This includes, among other things, the planned reorganization of the state media into "national cultural institutes" controlled by the government. This will be followed by a new law concerning civil servants that will rescind the principle of the impartiality within the civil service. The ultimate goal is a national-conservative revolution that will take up the causes of patriotism, anti-Communism and Christian values while at the same time providing social benefits such as child welfare payments and lowering the retirement age. The calculation is that without the Constitutional Court - supposedly controlled by the opposition - the government will be able to push all of this through quickly and painlessly. It's a formula that's very familiar from other countries with authoritarian governments.

Long-term consequences ignored

As so often with decisions based on power or party politics, the long-term consequences of weakening the Constitutional Court are being ignored. In every democracy, the opposition of today is the government of tomorrow. Civil society is very strong in Poland; nonetheless, there remains the question, even if only theoretically, of what will happen if, after the next election, it is not the liberals or the national-conservatives who hold the majority in parliament but the far right? Who will stop them then?

The Constitutional Court and independent media can be disagreeable for any ruling majority. In a way, they are the safeguards of any democratic system - uncomfortable, but necessary. Weakening them, or even disabling them, is playing with fire.

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