12:43 GMT27 November 2020
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    In the lead-up to the NATO summit in Warsaw, the Polish ruling party has pushed new constitutional court reforms in parliament, in a move to appease Western allies who have repeatedly voiced concerns over a lack of democracy in the Eastern European nation.

    On Thursday, the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, passed several amendments to constitutional court legislation, implemented by the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) following its election wins in last fall.

    The Polish government in November 2015 claimed that the changes were aimed at improving the efficiency and transparency of the constitutional court. But the move was observed by political opposition in the country, as well as by the EU and the US, as an attempt by the PiS to crack down on the rule of law.

    Having experienced continuous pressure from its allies for months, Warsaw finally retreated, shortly before US President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to the country.

    The newly-amended law decreases, from thirteen to eleven, the number of judges that are engaged in making rulings, and states that rulings can be taken by a majority vote, rather than the previous required two-thirds majority.

    "We have shown enough good will to resolve the conflict, which we haven't created," Stanislaw Piotrowicz, a PiS MP, said, quoted by the Polish news agency PAP.

    Many Polish opposition politicians view the changes as minor, claiming that the amendments won’t reverse the trend of government domination over the courts. Sceptics point out that the altered legislation maintains an earlier requirement of reviewing cases in chronological order, rather than in order of importance. Above all, a minority of judges are still empowered to delay court rulings for up to six months.

    "We are dealing with the end of democracy. Poles will have to be afraid of their state," Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz of the Modern opposition party said.

    "The bill is yet another try to subordinate the court to the executive power, and we fear that it will block all cases judged by the court," Marcin Wolny, a lawyer for the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, said.

    The question of court reform is expected to be raised during a meeting between Obama with Polish President Andrzej Duda on Friday, on the first day of the NATO summit. Polish authorities, seeking additional NATO contingents on their soil as a means to counter “Russian aggression,” must first obey the rules of its Western allies, according to an opinion piece in the New York Times.

    "The Polish government must be told that and more: that the alliance whose protection they demand is not only about defending territory, but, perhaps more important, about defending shared values," an editorial in the Wednesday edition of the paper reads.


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