The international Venice Commission, a branch of the Council of Europe [official websites], began an investigation [press release] Monday into Poland’s recent changes to its Constitutional Court [official website, in Polish]. The review was requested by Polish officials after the change in law in December resulted in street protests and international criticism [NYT report]. Although the Council of Europe, and the Venice Commission under it, are not part of the EU and will not make a legally binding decision, the outcome will be announced in March and is expected to influence EU investigations into the recent actions taken by the government under the Law and Justice Party (PiS) [official website, in Polish].
The EU is examining the decision regarding the Constitutional Court as well as new media laws passed in January [JURIST reports]. Earlier this month the Polish government passed a controversial surveillance law [JURIST report] that grants the government [press release, Polish] greater access to digital data and broader use of surveillance for law enforcement. The PiS, a conservative party elected in October, holds an overwhelming majority [BBC report] of positions in the Polish government including the lead in both parliamentary houses and the presidency. In December the leader of the European Parliament [official website] compared PiS’ rise to power in Poland to a coup [BBC report], leading to Parliament calling for an apology. PiS has rejected [DW report] criticisms that its policies are undermining democracy in Poland. However, there is a larger concern in the EU that new Polish law will erode checks and balances on government powers.