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Further erosion of the Polish democracy: providing feedback for the first EU Rule of Law Report

The Open Dialogue Foundation provided inputs to the first annual Rule of Law Report, the European Commission’s latest oversight mechanism and a part of its wider rule of law toolbox. Together with experts and practitioners from Polandjudges Dariusz Mazur and Agnieszka Niklas-Bibik, as well as former public media employee, Piotr Owczarskiwe submitted our feedback on the worrisome developments in the Polish justice system and media sector in 2019 and the first half of 2020. The European Commission’s initiative will result in the “Rule of Law Report”, expected to be published in September 2020.

Our contributors’ input paints a grim picture of further erosion of judicial independence and media pluralism in Poland. Apart from describing the underlying systemic issues of the Polish democracy’s malaise, going back to the Law and Justice (PiS) coming to power in 2015, they present the most recent developments and the gravest challenges currently faced by the rule of law in the country.

In particular, Judge Dariusz Mazur describes the workings of the PiS’ “inquisitorial, politised model of disciplinary proceedings against judges [and prosecutors]”. He also puts much focus on the recent developments around the Supreme Court – in the last few years the stronghold of judiciary independence, now in danger of a hostile takeover by the executive.

Judge Agnieszka Niklas-Bibik compliments this input by some lesser-known statistics that provides yet a wider view on the justice system in Poland, such as: how the number of judicial vacancies fluctuated in the last few years; or – of particular interest to every citizen – how lengthy the proceedings are, or how accessible are the Polish courts to citizens.

Finally, insights into the situation in the public media are provided by a former Polish Television, TVP, employee, Piotr Owczarski, who focuses on the toxic intertwining of politics and public media in Poland.

In line with our mission of bridging the gap between European institutions and experts and practitioners working on the ground, the Foundation facilitated the communication between the two sides; thus, providing the European policymakers with “insider knowledge”, on one hand, and giving a voice to civic sector actors in the Member State, on the other.

The described contribution is a part of the wider European Commission rule of law toolkit. In response to the growing challenges to the rule of law, in July 2019, the body adopted a series of alleviating measures which can be grouped into three pillars: promoting the rule of law culture, preventing its erosion, and responding to its immediate breaches.

Part and parcel of these efforts is the “Rule of Law Review Cycle”, culminating in the adoption of the annual “Rule of Law Report”. The report is envisaged as an early warning mechanism and invites stakeholders, including the civil sector, to exchange information on the emerging challenges to the rule of law. Its release is expected in September 2020. Until May 4th stakeholders were welcome to provide their feedback.

See our contribution to the European Commission’s annual “Rule of Law Report”

For the purpose of this submission we welcomed input from:

  • Dariusz Mazur – Judge of the Kraków Regional Court and Spokesperson of the Themis Association of Judges, against whom multiple disciplinary proceedings for defending the independent judiciary are pending; 
  • Agnieszka Niklas-Bibik – Judge of the Słupsk Regional Court;
  • Piotr Owczarski – a journalist, holding multiple posts in Polish Television (TVP) between 2008 and 2017; author of a petition to the EP on the situation of public media in Poland which led to the issue being currently examined by the Committee on Culture and Education.

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