Rule of Law Report 2023. EU Commission has “serious concerns” regarding Poland
EU Commission

The Rule of Law Report for 2023, published by the European Commission, has raised “serious concerns” regarding the state of the rule of law in Poland. The report focuses on four key areas: national justice systems, anti-corruption frameworks, media pluralism, and other institutional checks and balances. According to the EU executive, there are persistent concerns regarding the independence of the Polish judiciary and claims of political influence over the media. The report also highlights concerns related to the so-called “Lex Tusk” legislation.

This is the fourth annual Rule of Law Report prepared by the European Commission in response to accusations from Poland and Hungary that the EU selectively addresses rule of law issues and targets these two countries. As a result, the Commission now publishes separate reports for each Member State to address rule of law deficiencies.

The chapter dedicated to Poland in the report spans nearly 30 pages, outlining challenges in the judiciary, anti-corruption measures, media freedom, and other aspects of checks and balances. The report emphasises the ongoing serious concerns about the independence of the Polish judiciary, with recent rulings from the Court of Justice of the EU reinforcing the importance of judicial independence. Concerns persist regarding the lack of implementation of judgments and interim measures from the European Court of Human Rights, as well as disciplinary investigations and proceedings against judges.

The report also highlights serious concerns related to the Constitutional Tribunal and notes that although Poland has taken steps to raise the standards of judicial independence and reform the disciplinary regime for judges, challenges remain. The issue of corruption in the public sector is also addressed, with experts and business executives perceiving corruption levels as relatively high. The report points out the absence of a new Anti-Corruption Programme and a lack of progress in strengthening lobbying rules.

Regarding media pluralism, positive changes have been introduced, but concerns have been raised about the functional independence of the media regulator. While legal safeguards for editorial independence are in place, claims of political influence over the media persist. The report emphasises the need for fair, transparent, and non-discriminatory procedures for granting operating licenses to media outlets.

The report also discusses other institutional checks and balances, including concerns about laws being adopted without adequate consultations and the delay in appointing members to the College of the Supreme Audit Office, risking its effective functioning. The controversial “Lex Tusk” legislation, which empowers an administrative committee to assess and decide on the deprivation of individuals’ right to hold public office, raises serious concerns.

The Rule of Law Report provides recommendations for Poland, including separating the functions of the Minister of Justice from the Prosecutor-General, strengthening integrity rules, ensuring independent and effective investigations and prosecutions, and enhancing the independent governance and editorial independence of public service media. It also emphasises the need for a systematic follow-up to findings by the Supreme Audit Office and urgent appointments to the College of the Supreme Audit Office.

While the report itself does not impose direct duties or trigger sanctions, it is used as a basis for other infringement procedures by the Commission. Its provisions are frequently referenced in discussions on the rule of law in Member States and EU debates on the subject. Poland and Hungary have previously rejected the report, accusing it of bias and double standards, and claiming that the Commission has overstepped its authority.

The Rule of Law Report serves as an important tool for assessing and addressing rule of law issues within the EU and promoting dialogue and accountability among Member States.