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Poland’s lawmakers to decide on contentious laws regarding top court and targeting opposition

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish lawmakers on Friday were weighing two contentious draft bills — on the work of a top court and on Russia’s alleged influence in Poland — that may affect Warsaw’s chances of obtaining European Union recovery funds and the outcome of fall parliamentary elections.

Critics say that the two draft laws on which votes are planned violate Poland’s constitution and are clear examples of how the right-wing ruling party, Law and Justice, has been using the law for its own ends ever since coming to power in 2015.

The government’s policies, especially in the judicial system, have already put Warsaw at odds with the EU, which says they go against the principles of rule of law and democracy. The two drafts to be voted on Friday could add to the rift.

The lower chamber, or Sejm, was debating a bill, proposed by the ruling party, that lowers the required quorum of the Constitutional Court. It is intended to speed up work on legislation that is stalled by divisions inside the court, which has been put under political control. Among those laws are new regulations that could unblock massive EU funds that Brussels froze amid the rule-of-law clash with Warsaw.

At stake is some 35 billion euros ($37 billion) in EU grants and loans as Poland’s government continues to spend huge amounts on social bonuses, pensions and weapons as the war in neighboring Ukraine continues.

During heated debates in parliament earlier this week, one of the ruling party’s key lawmakers, Tadeusz Cymanski, said that the bill lowering the Constitutional Tribunal’s quorum is crucial because the party wants to “force the tribunal … to issue a certain ruling that we are waiting for.”

In the debate Friday, opposition lawmakers claimed that the ruling party was using Polish law as a tool to reach its own goals.

“It is law put to the party’s service,” said Kamila Gasiuk-Pichowicz of the Civic Coalition.

A vote was also expected late Friday on a proposal for a state commission for Russian influences. That is generally seen as targeting former prime minister, now the main opposition Civic Coalition leader, Donald Tusk, at a time when early campaigning for the fall elections is underway.

Critics view the bill, dubbed “Lex Tusk,” as an attempt to create a powerful and unconstitutional tool that would help Law and Justice continue to wield power even if it loses control of the parliament in elections this fall.

“This regulation violates all the constitutional foundations,” said constitution expert, Slawomir Patyra of the university in Lublin.

Patyra said the proposed commission would investigate and prosecute “anyone who will criticize the current political or economic order” because the definition of ‘Russian influences’ is vague.

Law and Justice accuses Tusk of having been too friendly toward Russia as prime minister between 2007-14 and making gas deals favorable to Russia before he went to Brussels to be the president of the European Council between 2014-19.

Graphic novels are displayed for sale at a bookstore in New York City on Sunday, October 8, 2023. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for September. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
Graphic novels are displayed for sale at a bookstore in New York City on Sunday, October 8, 2023. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for September. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

The bill foresees the creation of a state commission with the powers of prosecutor and judge. It could impose punishments, including 10-year bans on officials from positions that have control over spending public funds.

The opposition-controlled Senate has rejected the bill, but it can be overruled by the Sejm.

The ruling party currently holds a minimal majority in the 460-member lower chamber, allowing it to push through the legislation it proposes. The bills will then need approval from President Andrzej Duda, who also has power to veto them or send them to the Constitutional Court, which has the task of checking new legislation for conformity with Poland’s Constitution.

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