WARSAW, Poland –
Polish President Andrzej Duda unexpectedly said Friday that he was proposing urgent amendments to a contentious law on Russian influences that he signed this week and that drew U.S. and European Union criticism.
Duda said he was aware of the controversies, also in Poland, surrounding the law proposed by the governing conservative Law and Justice party and was addressing them by sending amendments to the parliament on Friday. He urged the lawmakers to act swiftly.
He insisted the law was needed for public transparency’s sake and also to prevent Russia from influencing Poland’s security.
Critics say the law violates the Polish Constitution and could keep government opponents from holding public office without full power to challenge the decisions in court. They say it could also have a negative effect on the eligibility of opposition candidates in an election due in the autumn.
Critics said that the urgent amendments meant a retreat by Duda, who holds a law degree.
“It is unbelievable that a person who has a doctor’s degree in law has not read the bill through,” said Robert Kropiwnicki of the opposition Civic Coalition. “He needed four days to read it, understand it and is now amending it.”
In its current form, the law will create a powerful committee, ostensibly meant to investigate Russian influence in Poland but is seen as primarily targeting opposition leader Donald Tusk, who is also an ex-prime minister and former top EU official. Law and Justice accuses Tusk of having been too friendly toward Russia as prime minister between 2007 and 2014, and making gas deals favourable to Russia before he went to Brussels to be the president of the European Council between 2014 and 2019.
The U.S. State Department and the EU authorities have strongly criticized the law and expressed concerns about Poland’s democracy. The 27-member EU, which Poland joined in 2004, also threatened to take measures if it became fully clear that such a law would undermine democratic standards.
Duda said Friday that his amendments ensured that the law was reviewed by nonpartisan experts, and that no lawmakers would sit on the commission and that its findings wouldn’t ban anyone from holding public offices. He said he is also strengthening the right to appeal before a court by those people who were under investigation.
Law and Justice spokesman Rafal Bochenk reacted by saying that the “main goal of the bill remains unchanged” despite the announced amendments. He stressed that the goal is to “show the truth about Russia’s covert influences in Poland.”
It wasn’t clear whether Duda consulted the amendments with the governing party. Duda said, however, that former Law and Justice treasury minister, Wojciech Jasinski, and ex-Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak, should make explanations before the commission about major gas deals they signed with Russia almost two decades ago.
The commission is meant to present a report on its findings by Sept. 17, just weeks before the election — expected in October or November — and could impose punishments, including 10-year bans on officials from positions that have control over spending public funds.
Duda signed the law, dubbed by critics “Lex Tusk,” on Tuesday and it will take effect a week from its publication.
Bowing partially to critics who say the law is unconstitutional, Duda said earlier this week that he was also sending it to the Constitutional Tribunal to review the bill for conformity with the supreme law.
Duda, aligned with the Law and Justice, said Friday he was reacting to the public outcry over the law.
Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Tusk are longtime political rivals.