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Venice Commission decides not to delay report on Poland

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The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, a constitutional watchdog, has said it will not postpone a report on legal changes in Poland, despite a request for a delay from Warsaw.

The commission, an advisory group to human rights body the Council of Europe, visited Warsaw last month to probe whether democratic standards are being upheld by Poland.

The commission said in a statement on its website on Thursday that the adoption of its findings following its trip to Poland “will allow to discuss and address… the real issue at stake, i.e. how to guarantee the continued effectiveness of [Poland’s] Constitutional Tribunal as a guardian of the constitution.”

Warsaw had asked the Council of Europe to delay issuing a final report on legal changes to Poland’s powerful Constitutional Tribunal, after the leak of initial findings angered the Polish foreign ministry.

The Venice Commission is expected to adopt its full report on 11 March.

In a preliminary opinion, obtained by the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper and made public over the weekend, the Venice Commission said an ongoing constitutional crisis in Poland poses a danger to the rule of law, democracy and human rights.

The crisis erupted following reforms of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal pushed through by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, which came to power in October.

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksander Stępkowski told the PAP news agency that the leak of the draft report “undoubtedly seriously undermined our trust in the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission in this matter.”

He added: “I suggested [to Council of Europe chief Thorbjorn Jagland] that he take steps to rebuild that trust. One step, we believe, is to decide to postpone work on the opinion so as to avoid an atmosphere of intensified political battle. ”

The Venice Commission said on Wednesday it regretted that the draft report was leaked. “Such draft opinions are restricted and not public documents since they do not reflect an official position of the commission as a whole,” it said, adding that it was not possible to identify the origin of the leak.

Jagland, meanwhile, said it was “unfortunate” that the draft report was leaked “in violation of its restricted character, and that discussions are now being based on a draft opinion.”

His comments came after Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski wrote to Jagland, complaining that the leak of the draft Venice Commission report was used by the Polish opposition to “brutally attack the government for purely political reasons.”

The European Commission in January launched an inquiry into whether Poland is upholding the principle of the rule of law and whether controversial legislation pushed through by the Law and Justice government violates EU standards.

Recommendations issued by the Venice Commission are not binding on governments, but Brussels has said it will work closely with the body, which includes experts in constitutional and international law, in monitoring developments in Poland.

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