The European Commission, an executive branch of the European Union, has begun legal proceedings against Poland over the latter’s new “Russian influence” law.
The controversial new law was adopted by the Polish parliament in late May. It calls for the establishment of a special committee to investigate cases of “Russian influence” in the country.
However, opposition parties in Poland, as well as the European Commission, fear that the new law will enable the incumbent Polish government to silence political opponents and stifle democracy. Concerns have also been raised that the new law may violate the Polish constitution.
European Commission takes legal action against Poland
“The College (of Commissioners) agreed to start an infringement procedure by sending a letter of formal notice in relation to the new law on the state committee for examination of Russian influence,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commission’s executive vice-president, on Wednesday afternoon.
A letter of formal notice marks the initial stage of a violation process, potentially leading to the involvement of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) if the issue is not resolved. In situations where a member state fails to address the matter, the ECJ has the authority to impose daily penalties, as previously demonstrated with Poland.
The letter is expected to be sent on Thursday but the government in Poland is confident that the issue with the European Commission will be resolved and that legal proceedings will not impede the new law.
“We will calmly pass on the legal and factual arguments in this case after reviewing the [Commission’s] concerns,” commented Poland’s Europe Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk.
What is the law and why is it controversial?
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last February, Warsaw has been one of the Kremlin’s staunchest critics within Europe. Within this tense climate, the Polish government introduced legislation in May this year to prevent “Russian influence” from holding sway over Polish politics.
The new law would lead to the establishment of a nine-member commission appointed by the parliament. It would have access to all government documents and departments. If the committee discovers that people have been influenced by the Kremlin, it can impose various punishments, like prohibiting them from holding public office for ten years.
The introduction of the new law has caused a considerable backlash in Poland. Opposition parties fear that the new law could be used to silence them.
The law and its reception in the public sphere could have important implications for the upcoming elections in Autumn when the currently ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party will try for a third term in government.
In addition to legal action initiated by the European Commission, the US, a crucial ally of Poland, has also expressed concerns.
“The US Government is concerned by the Polish government’s passage of new legislation that could be misused to interfere with Poland’s free and fair elections,” commented the US State Department.