EU justice commissioner concerned about Poland's investigative body
Didier Reynders, the EU justice commissioner, has expressed his concerns about Poland's new law setting up a commission to investigate alleged Russian influence because it may be used to interfere with the upcoming general election.
On Monday, Andrzej Duda, the Polish president, signed into law a bill allowing for the establishment of the investigative body.
Poland goes to the polls this autumn, and opponents of the government argue that the commission could target leading opposition figures such as Donald Tusk, a former prime minister and now leader of Civic Platform (PO), the largest opposition party, ahead of the general election.
"We have a special concern now about the situation in Poland, with the creation by law of a special committee able to deprive citizens, individuals of their right to be elected to a public function, a public office," Reynders said before an EU meeting on Tuesday. "So it will be possible to do that with an administrative decision without any judicial review."
Similar concerns have already been raised by the US State Department and the US ambassador to Poland.
"So it's a special concern and the (European - PAP) Commission will analyse the legislation but we'll not hesitate to take measures if it's needed because it's impossible to agree to such a system without a real access to justice, to an independent judge against an administrative decision," Reynders added.
The commission will have the power to waive an administrative decision it deems was made under Russian influence, and in the case of people who made such decisions issue a ban of up to 10 years from holding a public office that involves public funds.
It will also be able to block their security clearance for up to 10 years.
Government officials have rejected the concerns that the new body could be used for political means, saying its sole aim is to investigate Russian influence on Polish politics.
Zbigniew Rau, the Polish foreign minister, said in a comment to the EC justice commissioner's statement that he could not agree with his words.
"I am in full disagreement with the EC justice commissioner, and this has been caused by the fact that most probably only one of us has read the law, and only one of us is aware of the Polish legal system," Rau said.
"I understand that the EC justice commissioner does not know that an administrative decision, which can be issued by the Russian influence commission - just like any other administrative decision in the Polish legal system - can be reviewed by an administrative court," the foreign minister stated.
The minister explained that as court proceedings were always two-tier, one could not speak about a lack of the rule of law.
Andrzej Sadoś, Poland's ambassador to the EU, commented on Reynders's statement later on Monday.
"In Brussels, one of the EU commissioners gave false information to the media that the law on the commission to investigate Russian influence does not provide for appeal to the court. This is not true," he said.
Sadoś added that the matter was not discussed at the EU General Affairs Council meeting but that he had talked about it with representatives of the European Commission.
"I had the opportunity to explain to both Commissioner Reynders and Vice-President (of EC, Vera - PAP) Jourova, who referred to yesterday's decisions in other comments, that the EC should first analyse the legislative act, and then evaluate it," he said.