CCCU Expert Comment: The deterioration of Polish democracy

Following the announcement of Polish President Andrzej Duda to veto two bills that are part of the governments controversial plans to reform the judiciary, I wrote a brief commentary for the CCCU Expert Comment blog. You can find the whole text below:

THE DETERIORATION OF POLAND’S DEMOCRACY

Dr Philipp Köker explains that the President’s veto is unlikely to stop the deterioration of Poland’s democracy.

The Polish president, Andrzej Duda, has announced that he will veto two highly controversial bills aimed at reshaping the country’s judicial system.

At first glance, this may appear as a success for thousands of Poles who protested for weeks across the country and abroad. However, even though the president’s veto can only be overridden by a 3/5 majority in the Lower House of parliament, the veto alone is unlikely to stop the deterioration of Polish democracy.

Since taking office, the Law and Justice Party – whose leader Jarosław Kaczyński has publicly expressed his admiration for the policies of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán – has taken it upon themselves to reshape the country’s political system by bringing state media and judiciary under their control.

Shortly after their election in 2015, their government overruled nominations for five constitutional judges that had still been made by the last parliament and later refused to publish a ruling of the Constitutional Court that demanded three of these had to be sworn in by president Duda. Yet Duda, a member of Law and Justice himself, refused.

Subsequently, the government effectively cleansed state media of critical editors and journalists who the party had long accused of biased coverage.

Since then, objective coverage and commentary has been largely absent from public channels. The reform of the judiciary, already at the heart of the party’s programme during its first government in 2005-2007, is now a further step towards an ‘illiberal state’ modelled on the Hungarian example.

One of the two bills now vetoed by the president would have given the justice minister the right to fire the heads of lower courts, while the other would have allowed the government to replace all Supreme Court judges.

President Duda has been complicit in all these changes and so far failed to provide an effective check-and-balance on the government. However, presidential action was inevitable after it emerged over the weekend that the Polish Senate had passed bills in different versions than the lower chamber. Nevertheless, the veto alone is unlikely to put a halt to the Poland’s descent into illiberalism.

The president has only temporarily halted a reform that will inevitably be implemented unless other countries stand together and oppose this attack on democracy.

The EU, which has already threatened Poland with a suspension of its voting rights, will thereby play a key role. However, individual states and their parties also have an important role to play. Although the UK is headed for Brexit, Theresa May must not be indifferent to these developments – in particular because both the Conservatives as well as the DUP have a long history of cooperation with Law and Justice in the European Parliament.

Dr Philipp Köker is Senior Research Fellow in Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University. He is an award-winning expert on presidential politics in European democracies. His new book ‘Presidential Activism and Veto Power in Central and Eastern Europe’ has just been published with Palgrave Macmillan.

Call for Papers: “Presidents and Veto Power in Comparative Perspective” – Panel at the ECPR General Conference in Prague, 7-10 September 2016

This year I am organising a panel on presidential veto power in comparative perspective for the section “Presidential Politics. Powers and Constraints in Comparative Perspective” organised by the ECPR Standing Group on Presidents at the ECPR General Conference in Prague, 7-10 September 2016. I am still looking for contributors to the panel, so please get in touch if you would like to contribute.

Panel description

Presidents are now the most common type of head of state in democracies around the world. Although the role of the presidency varies greatly from country to country, even the least powerful presidents possess some power that allows them to influence the political process. The common and most frequently used power is the right to veto. The majority of presidents around the world can return bills to parliament for reconsideration, and the mere threat to use their power can bring work on bills to a halt.
Yet there is great variation in stipulations and customs governing both the formal and informal veto power of presidents. Some presidents merely dispose of a block veto that can be overridden by a simple majority, while others can suggest changes to bills and impose their will on the legislature by the ways of super majorities required for overriding their veto. Even without being formally vested with such constitutional prerogatives, presidents have found ways to significantly delay or prevent the implementation of parliamentary or governmental decisions.
Apart from a wealth of studies on U.S.-American presidents, presidential veto use tends to be understudied both empirically (e.g. veto use and its determinants) and theoretically (developing new or advancing existing approaches). The aim of this panel is to shed light on and examine different facets of presidential veto power within and beyond constitutional stipulations. It presents comparative papers and country studies on presidential veto power in Latin America and the USA, Western and Central Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.
It particularly welcomes proposals for comparative papers, irrespective of the chosen methodological approach (quantitative or qualitative). Potential topics include but are not limited to:

  • the determinants of presidential veto use
  • the development of veto use over time
  • the consequences of formal and informal veto power and its use
  • vetoes and amendatory observations to legislation
  • new or improved theoretical models of presidential veto power

Deadline

Please email your abstracts (300 words) for inclusion in the panel to Philipp Köker (p [dot] koeker [at] ucl.ac.uk) by Friday, 5th February 2016.

Президентське вето – Talk at the Ukrainian Institute in London, 28 February 2013

Ukrainian Institute London_logoOn 28 February 2013 I will be giving a talk titled “Президентське вето – Central and Eastern European presidents and their power to block legislation” at the Ukrainian Institute in London.

In my talk I am going to present results from my study of the use of presidential vetoes in the new EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe and compare these findings with how Ukrainian presidents from 1998 to to 2012 have used their power to block legislation.

Time: 7.00PM
Place: Ukrainian Institute
79 Holland Park
London W11 3SW

The talk will be held in English; admission is free and everybody is welcome! There will be an opportunity of Q&A after the talk as well as a wine reception.

Further information can be found here http://ukrainianinstitute.org.uk/upcoming-events/929

Paper accepted – PSA Annual Conference, Cardiff 2013

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My paper ‘Presidential Activism in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE): A statistical analysis of the use of presidential vetoes in the CEE EU member states, 1990-2010′  has been accepted for presentation at the Annual Conference of the Political Studies Association (PSA) in Cardiff, 25 – 27 March 2013.

The paper is a revised version of the paper I gave in June 2012 at the European Political Science Association and presents the first statistical longitudinal and cross-country analysis of the use of presidential vetoes in parliamentary democracies.

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