Ten Polish opposition parties and seven civil society organizations have signed a joint agreement on restoring the country's rule of law. Together, they will work on a bill to help end Poland's deepening legal feud with EU institutions.
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- Polish citizens have gathered in front of the Supreme Court building already for the seventh time this winter to defend the rule of law. This only shows that our society has not succumbed to this unprecedented demolition of the rule of law- said attorney Michał Wawrykiewicz of the Free Courts Initiative on Tuesday during a joint press conference organized by civil society groups and democratic opposition parties.

It was the very first time so many different activists and politicians appeared in public side by side. There were members of the Committee for the Defense of Democracy (Komitet Obrony Demokracji), the Women’s Strike Movement (Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet), Action Democracy (Akcja Demokracja), the Free Courts Initiative (Wolne Sądy), Defensor Iuris, the Secularism Congress (Kongres Świeckości) and Citizens of Poland (Obywatele RP), but also politicians representing smaller and bigger parties: Initiative Poland (Inicjatywa Polska), the United Left (Lewica Razem), the New Left (Nowa Lewica), the Modern party (Nowoczesna), the Greens (Partia Zieloni), the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska), Polska 2050 (Poland 2050), the Polish Socialist Party (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna), the Polish People’s Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe) and the Union of European Democrats (Unia Europejskich Demokratów).

- All of them have declared their support for a legislative project aiming to repair the Polish rule of law- Paweł Kasprzak, member of the Citizens of Poland, emphasized in an interview with "Wyborcza".

For a while, activists were thinking about whether to replace the parliamentary draft bill project with a civic legislative initiative. However, the latter would require the collection of signatures. Given the pandemic circumstances, this might have been substantially more difficult.

A joint effort

On Tuesday, December 7, the democratic opposition parties and civil society groups signed a joint "Agreement for the Rule of Law". Their representatives announced the establishment of a working team that will draft a bill to reverse the harm the ruling camp has done to the state of Poland’s rule of law since 2015. 

The starting point and a blueprint is to be the project initiated by the Association of Polish Judges "Iustitia", which the organization presented to the public in mid-November. 

- We will send the project to parliamentary and senatorial committees. We are counting on the support of all those who do not agree with the changes in the Polish justice system carried out in recent years. I hope that the entire opposition will unite to work on this project together - Krystian Markiewicz, president of "Iustitia", said during the official presentation of the project.

The purpose of this bill is to amend the Act on the National Council of the Judiciary, the Act on the Supreme Court, and certain other acts in order to carry out the obligations imposed on Poland by the decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

An agreement on restoring the rule of law

The second element of the newly unveiled project consists of a proposition developed by the civil society organizations last month.

Some of the most important changes the social organizations have already identified include the immediate reinstatement of judges Paweł Juszczyszyn and Igor Tuleya, who were unlawfully removed from adjudication; the abolition of the politicized Disciplinary Chamber for judges; and the freezing of the so-called "muzzle law" (in accordance with the CJEU's interim measures of 14.07.2021 and the verdict of 15.07.2021) in order for Poland to avoid paying massive fines and to finalize the acceptance of the National Recovery and Reconstruction Plan.

- I am pleased that representatives of the democratic opposition, who politically support the key elements presented in the "Agreement for the Rule of Law" and in Iustitia’s legislative project, are standing here with us today. This direction is our common goal. The rule of law is the framework that connects us all - emphasized Mr Wawrykiewicz. 

Both Paweł Kasprzak and Wojciech Kinasiewicz from the Citizens of Poland, as well as Marta Lempart from the Women's Strike Movement, made it clear, however, that there are some differences between the organizations, lawyers, and politicians when it comes to specific solutions. 

- The project proposed by Iustitia has been the subject of dialogue and even disputes in the legal community and among social organizations- Mr Kasprzak stated.

During the press conference, Ms Lempart also pointed out that there are minor differences among the signatories: - As you know, we quarrel a bit, but we are convinced that we should act on this together. If we quarrel now, it will only be while working on this project, that is, while working for the betterment of our country.

Wojciech Kinasiewicz mentioned that activists have so far been more uncompromising in defending the rule of law than the opposition parties. - It is civil organizations that have taken responsibility for saying that no EU money can go to a country that violates the rule of law-  he said. 

The aim: restoring the rule of law and releasing EU funds for Poland

The authors of the joint initiative stress that amending the law is necessary for Poland to be able to receive funds from the EU Recovery and Resilience Fund and to remove financial penalties imposed by the Court of Justice of the European Union for rule of law violations. 

On November 3, the CJEU fined Poland one million euros per day for failing to implement interim measures to suspend the illegal Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court. 

- The bill we are working on will allow us to stop the political madness of [Justice Minister] Zbigniew Ziobro and unlock EU funds. In practice, it is enough to take and just pass it- said Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz of the Civic Coalition, and added:

-The rejection of these solutions by the ruling Law and Justice party would only prove that Zbigniew Ziobro and Jarosław Kaczyński do not want Polish citizens to benefit from EU money.

Similar support was also declared by representatives of other parties present at the conference. They admitted, however, that it is still up to Law and Justice party to decide whether the project will receive a print number and end up being voted on in the Parliament.

***

Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Our journalists are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.

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