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World

Polish President Vetoes Two Proposed Laws To Change Judicial System

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

After President Trump visited Poland earlier this month, the right wing ruling party passed a series of bills to reform the country's judicial system. One of them would have allowed the government to remove and replace all of the Supreme Court judges. For the last week, tens of thousands of Polish people went to the streets to protest the bills.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Polish).

MCEVERS: And they demanded that President Andrzej Duda veto the bills. And today, in an unexpected turn, he did. He vetoed two out of the three. Joining me now from Poland is Justyna Pawlak. She's the Reuters bureau chief for Central Europe. Welcome to the show.

JUSTYNA PAWLAK: Hi. Good evening.

MCEVERS: Can you tell us just a - hi - a little more about the legislation that President Duda vetoed?

PAWLAK: Yes. There are quite a lot of - there are quite a lot of details in it. But essentially the legislation was going to give either the government or Parliament, which is controlled by the same party, a say in appointing - the appointment of judges just about across the spectrum. The most controversial, that was an overhaul of rules dealing with the Supreme Court in which the - if the law - if the drafted legislation actually became law, all the Supreme Court judges would have to retire the next day except for those picked by the justice minister. And then Parliament would have the say in appointing their replacements.

MCEVERS: Right.

PAWLAK: So clearly quite a politicized process.

MCEVERS: Right. And along with these huge protests that I mentioned, the European Union threatened Poland with sanctions if these bills were signed, the U.S. State Department weighed in saying judicial reform shouldn't violate Poland's Constitution or international legal obligations. What made the difference, though? Why did Duda say he vetoed these bills?

PAWLAK: Well, I have to say this is the $1 million question.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

PAWLAK: Duda is a - you know, is a president who is a very close ally of the ruling - of the ruling Conservative Party. So this is - you know, the main question is whether - you know, to what extent did he break away from the party? And is this a big loss for the government in terms of losing a dependable ally in any kind of future policymaking? Some observers say that this is related to - that this is a political - you know, political calculation on his part because of the - ahead of the next presidential election in 2020, where he perhaps felt that vetoing laws that so many people believe are unconstitutional would actually help him.

MCEVERS: People have worried about the future of Poland's democracy. You've got protesters in the streets for eight days outside the Supreme Court, demonstrations all across the country. Does this veto soothe people's worries that - and make them think the president might be listening to them?

PAWLAK: Yes and no. I mean, first of all, he vetoed two out of the three pieces of legislation, and the one that he didn't veto does actually give the government some say in appointment - in appointing lower level judges. So there is definitely a lot of concern about that. But I think broadly speaking, you know, it's unclear as to where Poland will go from now. The government said that they do want the judiciary to be reformed. Duda said he does as well, just under different conditions. So there will be more proposals.

MCEVERS: Justyna Pawlak, Reuters bureau chief for Central Europe and the Nordics. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.