In an unexpected move on Monday, Polish President Andrzej Duda refused to endorse two of the three reform bills which critics say would give the ruling Law and Justice Party power to choose judges.
“I have decided that I will send back to Sejm (translation: lower house of parliament), which means I will veto the bill, on the Supreme Court, as well as the one about the National Council of the Judiciary,” Duda said at a televised press conference.
One of the bills Duda said he would veto was intended to put new controls on the Supreme Court, making the justice minister, who is also prosecutor general, responsible for appointing judges. Duda said a prosecutor general should not have this power.
The second bill facing a veto would give lawmakers far reaching power over the National Council of Judiciary. While restating that the judiciary needs urgent reforms, Duda stressed that those reforms must not lead to fears of an oppressive government.
“The changes must be implemented in a way that does not create a division between the state and the society,” said Duda.
The president said he would sign the third bill, which grants the executive branch more influence in local courts.
His decision comes after the proposed judicial overhaul riled the opposition and Poland’s foreign partners. Thousands of people protested against the reform on the streets of Warsaw and other Polish cities last week, urging Duda to use his veto power. The EU Commission threatened to suspend Poland’s voting rights over the move. Despite the protests, however, the bills were backed by the majority of lawmakers in the Polish parliament on Saturday.
Commenting on the veto, Polish Deputy Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he was “disappointed” and surprised by the president’s decision.
In turn, the government’s opponents praised the Monday announcement.
The Polish currency, the zloty, rose immediately after Duda announced his decision.