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Poland - Government

The constitution now in effect was approved by a national referendum on May 25, 1997. The constitution codifies Poland's democratic norms and establishes checks and balances among the president, prime minister, and parliament. It also enhances several key elements of democracy, including judicial review and the legislative process, while continuing to guarantee the wide range of civil rights, such as the right to free speech, press, and assembly, which Poles have enjoyed since 1989.

Under the Constitution, fascist, communist and racist political parties are banned. The Constitution also establishes the independence of the National Bank of Poland, or NBP, Poland's central bank, which is charged with the responsibility of maintaining the value of the national currency, the Polish zloty. The Constitution also grants the NBP the exclusive power of setting and implementing monetary policy. Under the Constitution, the Government is prohibited from incurring loans or issuing guarantees or sureties if, as a result, public debt would exceed 60.0 percent of GDP. There are also certain budget-related requirements that apply if public debt exceeds 50.0 percent of GDP. Moreover, since 1999, under the Constitution a budget act may not provide for the financing of the budget deficit by the NBP. These limitations are intended to safeguard the fiscal health of the economy.

Parliament

The parliament consists of the 460-member Sejm and the 100-member Senate, or upper house. The Polish political system is based on a party system. In the parliamentary, presidential, and local elections candidates supported by significant political parties stand a better chance of success. Parliamentarians belonging to the same political group create their parliamentary "clubs" within the Sejm and Senate. In practice most of the bills and legislative amendments are brought to the House through the parliamentary clubs.

Deputies (Members of Sejm) are returned for the electoral constituency where they won their mandate. Most constituency borders coincide with those of one or several gminas. In large cities constituencies may be smaller in area. During a parliamentary vote, neither members of Sejm nor senators are bound in any way by the instructions of their electorate, but do have the constitutional obligation to be guided by the well-being of the entire Republic. Parliamentary deputies participate in Sejm sessions and have the right to question members of the Council of Ministers; they work in numerous, permanent or special, committees attached to Sejm or Senate, and established to review various issues related to state administration and public life.

The new constitution and the reformed administrative division (as of 1999) required a revision of the election ordinance (passed in April 2001). The most important changes were liquidation of a national list (all deputies are elected by voters in electoral districts) and the stipulation of an electoral threshold -- with the exception of guaranteed seats for small ethnic parties, only parties receiving at least 5% of the total vote could enter parliament. In August 2002, the electoral law was amended, reintroducing the d'Hondt method of calculating seats, which provides a premium for the leading parties. This method was applied in the 2005 and 2007 elections.

President

Under the Constitution, the President is elected by direct vote for a five-year term and may be re-elected only once. The president is the head of state and the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces; he appoints the Chief of General Staff and the commanders of all the armed forces; in wartime he nominates the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and can order general mobilisation. Presidential powers include the right to initiate legislation, to veto legislative acts and, in certain instances, to dissolve Parliament. The President's power to dissolve Parliament is limited to instances where the Sejm fails to present the annual budget act for the President's signature within four months of receipt thereof from the Government, or where the Sejm fails to pass a vote of confidence in the Government following attempts to nominate a government in the manner provided for in the Constitution. The President represents the State in its foreign relations, appoints the judges of the Supreme Court and nominates the Prime Minister as well as the president of the NBP, subject to approval by the Parliament.

The President has a free choice in selecting the Prime Minister, yet in practice he usually does not give the task of forming a new government to a politician who does not command a majority in Sejm. The President has the opportunity to directly influence the legislative process by using his veto to stop a bill; however, his veto can be overruled by a 3/5 majority vote in the presence of at least half of the statutory number of members of Sejm (230). Before signing a bill and making it law, the President can also ask the Constitutional Tribunal to verify its compliance with the Constitution, which in practice bears a decisive influence on the legislative process.

Council of Ministers

The Council of Ministers (cabinet), or Polish government, consists of ministers, heads of departments of ministerial rank, and heads of central institutions. The Council of Ministers is the body which exercises executive power. Under the Public Administration Branches Act the Prime Minister, who heads the Council of Ministers, enjoys a considerable degree of freedom in decisions concerning its personnel.

The Council of Ministers also manages the current policy of state, ensures the execution of the law by issuing ordinances, coordinates and controls the work of government administrative bodies, ensures public order and the internal and external security of the state, protects the interests of the State Treasury, approves the draft of the budget, and supervises its execution. The Council of Ministers also signs international agreements which require ratification, and can revoke other international agreements.

The Prime Minister is the head of the Council of Ministers and is responsible for forming the Government, which must then receive a vote of confidence from the Sejm. The Prime Minister is typically chosen from the majority coalition in the bicameral legislature's lower house (Sejm). The Prime Minister may also be a Representative at the Sejm of the Republic of Poland. He cannot, however, hold the post of the President of the RP or any other high state office such as the Chairman of the NIK (Supreme Chamber of Control), Chairman of the NBP (National Bank of Poland) or a Civil Rights Spokesman (Ombudsman). Designated Prime Minister is free to select his co-workers - members of the Council of Ministers. The cabinet he selects must be approved by the Sejm by granting him the vote of confidence.

The Sejm grants the Council of Ministers vote of no confidence by a majority vote of the statutory number of Representatives at the motion put forward by at least 46 Representatives and naming a new candidate to the post of the Prime Minister (so called constructive vote of no confidence). Such motion can be put to vote not earlier than 7 days after it has been proposed. Second motion can be presented not earlier than three months from the date of submission of the prior motion. Second motion can be submitted before the period of three months expires if it is presented by at least 115 Representatives.

Judiciary

Judicial authority is vested in the Supreme Court and appellate, regional and district courts. A separate Constitutional Tribunal has jurisdiction over all matters relating to constitutional matters. The judicial branch plays a minor role in decision-making.

Polands Constitutional Tribunal ruled 09 March 2016 that many regulations of its own function introduced by the new government were unconstitutional, AP reported. The Tribunal, which is the top legislative court, weighed in on a legal crisis that had upended politics in Poland and brought sharp condemnation from European and US authorities. The Tribunla said many of the laws passed late last year that fundamentally change how the 15-judge court functions breach Polands constitution. It was not clear what effect the ruling would have.

EU Vice-President Frans Timmermans said 21 December 2016 that the 28-nation bloc "will not drop this matter" until the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS) satisfies questions about the independence of its judiciary and other issues, which are widely perceived as backsliding on fundamental political rights."I think this is a substantial challenge for the rule-of-law in Poland, and the rule-of-law is the basis upon which a whole European structure is built," Timmermans said during a news conference in Brussels. "We feel a strong, strong feeling of solidarity with the Polish people who deserve, like all Europeans, to have an independent judiciary, to have a full separation of powers in their country."

Polish President Andrzej Duda said on 24 July 2017 that would veto two of three bills that opponents feared would erode the division of powers in the EU country and give the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) too much influence over the courts. One bill would remove all current Supreme Court judges immediately except those hand-picked by the justice minister. Parliament had earlier passed a bill giving it the right to name most of the members of the National Council of the Judiciary, which would nominate future candidates for the president to appoint to the Supreme Court. Duda said he would ratify one part of the reforms, a bill that gives the justice minister the right to dismiss the heads of lower courts.

The government rebutted accusations that it was heading toward authoritarian rule. The PiS said the changes are needed to ensure courts serve all Poles, not just the "elites". Duda is an ally of the ruling right-wing, eurosceptic Law and Justice party and, although he had threatened to water down one of the bills, his veto of a second bill was a surprise.

The controversial judiciary reform legislation sparked large protests and drawn warnings from the European Union. For many days, tens of thousands of protesters have been gathering in cities including Warsaw, Krakow and Poznan for candle-lit vigils, demanding that Duda veto the reforms. Brussels said the reforms would put courts under direct government control. The United States, Poland's most important ally in NATO, also expressed concern.

Polish lawmakers approved changes to the judiciary which would give parliament control over the selection of judges. The 09 December 2017 decision came in defiance of EU standards for member states to keep an independent judiciary. The lower house of parliament voted 237-166, with 22 abstentions, to pass the bill on appointments to the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS) as opposition lawmakers shouted "dictatorship!" The legislation, which would give lawmakers the right to choose 15 out of 25 judges on the KRS, would likely heighten tensions between Poland and the EU if it is agreed by the Senate and Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Poland's euroskeptic Law and Justice (PiS) party, which holds a majority in the lower house of parliament, argued that the country's judiciary needs to be changed for its courts to become more efficient. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party sid the changes are necessary to a justice system they say is controlled by an untouchable "caste" of judges steeped in communist-era mentality. Goverment critics saw the reform as a further attempt by the right-wing party to tighten its grip on power. The move prompted rallies across the country in July. Critics saw the proposed reforms as part of a broader shift towards authoritarianism by the deeply conservative government. Constitutional law experts at the Council of Europe also said that the proposed reforms jeopardized all aspects of the judiciary and would "lead to a far reaching politicization of this body."

The EU's executive body, the European Commission, took Poland to court in September 2018 over the judicial reform, which changed the retirement age of judges from 70 to 65. The age cap violated the rule of law, the commission said. The overhaul would force 27 out of 72 Supreme Court members to retire, including its chief, Malgorzata Gersdorf, who called the move a "purge" and refused to step down.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) demanded that the Polish government halt an initiative forcing dozens of Poland's Supreme Court judges into early retirement. "Poland must immediately suspend the application of the provisions of national legislation relating to the lowering of the retirement age for Supreme Court judges," the EU's top court said on 19 October 2018. The Luxembourg-based court also ordered the suspension be applied with "retroactive effect" to Supreme Court judges already in retirement. Poland's Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro signaled that his country would accept the ECJ decision. "We are part of the European Union and we will respect the EU's laws," he said.

Local Government

Poland is divided into 16 provinces, known as voivodships. On July 18, 1998, the Sejm, which is the lower house of Polish Parliament, approved legislation transforming Poland's 49 provinces into 16 new ones, a process which is part of an administrative reform. The Sejm voted 326-45-41 for the measure, one of many in a package of legislation aimed at doing away with the communist era administration and shifting power to local governments. Each voivodship is represented by a provincial governor, or voivode, appointed by the Government, who represents the Government at the voivodship level. There are three levels of independent territorial self-government: voivodships, poviats and gminas.

The 16 voivodships at the top level (where self-governing authorities are located alongside government-appointed voivods) are divided into 314 counties as poviats at the intermediate level and 65 cities with poviat status and 2,478 basic units of locally-elected governments, known as gminas. Self-governing authorities are elected by popular vote. All of the self-governing entities are financially autonomous and independent of each other and of the Government. The Prime Minister may limit their activities only to the extent that their actions conflict with national law. The self-governing entities are financed by a share of national taxes and by their own revenues, such as local taxes and fees. The gminas are entitled under the Constitution to exercise powers that are not designated as powers of other public authorities.



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