Last week, the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, released an opinion accusing Poland’s government of endangering the rule of law and violating the EU’s democratic principles. The report is the first step in a process that could lead to EU sanctions on Warsaw, including the suspension of voting rights in EU deliberations, and comes after a months-long investigation into changes made to Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal. Many observers have called the changes, which have plunged Poland into a constitutional crisis, undemocratic.
The crisis began last October, when the previous right-of-center government led by the Civic Platform party, facing a looming electoral defeat, appointed five judges to the 15-member court responsible for ruling on the constitutionality of laws. Three of the appointments were for existing vacancies, while the other two were appointments for seats that were soon to be vacated. The move was an obvious last-ditch attempt by the party, known as the PO, to retain some influence in government.
The situation grew worse after the populist Law and Justice party, known as PiS, won a landslide victory in the October elections. PiS quickly set out to appoint its own judges to the court, and in December appealed to the tribunal to rule on the legality of the last-minute PO appointments. The court ruled that three of the appointments could stand, but cleared the way for PiS to fill the other two vacancies.