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Poland’s Constitutional Crisis: Facts and interpretations

Poland’s Constitutional Crisis
Marcin Matczak
Publication date: 
Fri, 6 Jul 2018

In this policy brief, prominent critic of the ruling Law and Justice Party Marcin Matczak presents the crucial events of ‘the Polish constitutional crisis’, and what has been widely described as a backsliding on the part of Poland into authoritarianism. 

He attempts to explain the nature and possible causes of the crisis, in which the government has assumed full control of the appointment of new judges, and is attempting to enforce the retirement of over a third of sitting judges, including the president of the Supreme Court, in contravention of the Polish Constitution. The moves have been condemned by the European Commission, which has announced its intention to take the Polish government to the European Court of Justice over the legislation, on the grounds that “these measures undermine the principle of judicial independence".

The author offers three explanations for the causes of the crisis: (1) historical, originating from the smooth, non-punitive nature of the post-Communist transition; (2) legal, relating to the excessive formalism of Polish legal culture; and (3) sociological, as a crisis of liberalism and of political identification among the youth and across society at large.

Marcin Matczak is a lawyer and academic in Warsaw, and is a frequent commentator in The Guardian and other media outlets on the ongoing threats to the judiciary in Poland and the response by the EU.