Substance of the Venice Commission

Paulina Matwiej

Significant changes were brought into the Polish Parliament and government after elections from October 2015. The Law and Justice party obtained majority of the seats in the Parliament. In this situation their opponents can only disagree with the leader party, but their voice could not be taken into consideration. The most controversial change concerns Polish Constitutional Court. The intention of the leading party was to change voting system in the court. The amendments would change the chronology of given opinions. Complaints would be investigated according to the date of lodging and the President would be able to initiate disciplinary proceedings against any of the judges of Constitutional Court. Those changes brought discussion not only on Polish ground. But what is more important the changes caused worldwide concern about the status of democracy in Poland. The amendment  of a statue of Constitutional Court had disunited experts and society. Then it was decided that any disagreements could be resolved by the opinion of the Venice Commission. Witold Waszczykowski, Minister of Foreign Affairs as first applied to the Commission for its opinion. We can ask: would he consider such situation if the opinion was unfavorable for Polish government? What kind of economic damages may appear if the government does not accept the decision?

Andrzej Hrechorowicz/KPRP

Polish President Andrzej Duda with Gianni Buquicchio, President of the Venice Commission (photo: Andrzej Hrechorowicz/KPRP)

What it is the Venice Commission?

The news does not explain people what the Venice Commission is, it just give them narrow explanation of a commotion around it. The Commission is composed of independent specialists in the area of constitutional law and contains 60 member states, not only from EU, but also from Asia, America and Africa. Fall of Berlin wall increased the need for constitutional assistance in Central Europe and post- Soviet countries, due to this, the main role of the Commission is to assist individual states in strengthening and protecting their democracy. There is no possibility for the Commission to impose sanction on the state concerned, its work is focused on dialogue and discussion.

Members of the Venice Commission ( Source: Alinor at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Members of the Venice Commission ( Source: Alinor at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Belarus and Hungary in front of the Venice Commission

Belarus as a state for which democracy is a foreign matter could not be obeyed in the works of the Venice Commission. Previous opinions available on the official website of the Commission referred for example to the mass events in the Republic of Belarus, warnings addressed to the Belarusian association of journalists, Electoral Code of Belarus and Referendum from 2004. The main problem in the last quoted example was the fact that president Lukashenko wanted to stand as a candidate in the forthcoming presidential elections although he was ending his second term of office and Constitution of Belarus prohibits from serving more than two cadencies. Opinion in this case was undisputed. The second candidacy contradicts the electoral law; there was a serious doubt as well whether fair voting would be possible. Forthcoming referendum would reassure prohibited privilege for one person[1].

In 2015 Hungarians had possibility to make themselves acquainted with an opinion of the Venice Commission. The most recent opinion on Hungary is based on analyses of Media Services and Mass Media situation. Commission’s investigation covered subjects of  distribution of budget for advertisement, limitations on political advertisement and their taxation. The Commission evaluated that the Hungarian Media Act was created to underline that serious sanctions should be used as a last resort, otherwise it may undermine effective functioning of a media. Elections of the members of the Media Council are to assure fair representation and distribution of budget should follow defined rules.[2]

The official website of the Venice Commission gives us a hint on what is the approach to opinions from 26 states. Each of the documents has got few subsections. It might be easy to conclude that only countries having struggles with democratic principles are the subject of debates, nothing could be further from the truth. The official website provides cases even from states having strong democracy as mentioned Hungary, France or Belgium.

Few days ago Poland has become subject of the Commission’s opinion, which is not favorable for Polish government. Now the question emerges, how the government will react for it, and if they do not change its standpoint is there any possibility that Poland will be moved to the margin of European Union? Probably the European Commission will start second level of procedure checking legal order in Poland. The Commission can also make some recommendations which will be in accordance with an opinion of the Venice Commission.

 

[1] The opinion of the Venice Commission on Belarus (2006): DIRECT LINK

[2] The opinion of the Venice Commission on Hungary (2015): DIRECT LINK

 

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