EU, US voice concern over Poland's 'Russian influence' committee

The United States and the European Union's top justice official on Tuesday criticized Polish plans for a law that could keep political opponents from holding public office without full legal recourse, and the EU threatened to take measures if it became fully clear such a law would undermine democratic standards.

Polish President Andrzej Duda said early this week he would sign a bill that critics view as a tool to remove from political life the opponents of the ruling party — mostly notably opposition leader Donald Tusk, the former EU Council president. Parliament last Friday already approved the bill, which was proposed by the ruling conservative Law and Justice party as the country heads toward a parliamentary election in the autumn.

Experts say the law violates the Polish Constitution and the opposition has called on Duda to reject it.

"The U.S. Government is concerned by the Polish government's passage of new legislation that could be misused to interfere with Poland's free and fair elections," said U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller. He added such a law "could be used to block the candidacy of opposition politicians without due process."

The 27-nation EU, of which Poland is a member, also issued criticism.

EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said Tuesday that such a law would be "able to deprive citizens, individuals of their rights to be elected in a public function — public office."

He said that what specifically irked him was that "it will be possible to do that as an administrative decision without any judicial review."

Reynders said ahead of a meeting of EU Europe ministers who will assess the state of the rule of law in Hungary and Poland that the EU "will not hesitate to take measures if it's needed because it's impossible to agree on such a system without a real access to justice."

The Polish law would create a powerful commission, ostensibly meant to investigate Russian influence in Poland. Duda has insisted the bill doesn't give the commission the power to eliminate anyone from public or political life. Bowing partially to critics who say the law is unconstitutional, Duda said he was also sending it to the Constitutional Tribunal to review the bill for conformity with the supreme law.

The commission is meant to present a report on its findings by Sept. 17, just weeks before the election — expected in October or November — and could impose punishments, including 10-year bans on officials from positions that have control over spending public funds.

Law and Justice accuses Tusk of having been too friendly toward Russia as prime minister between 2007 and 2014 and making gas deals favorable to Russia before he went to Brussels to be the president of the European Council between 2014 and 2019.

Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Tusk are longtime political rivals.

Source: Associated Press

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