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Parliamentary commission to investigate Russian influence in Poland… just before the elections

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Poland – Is the true purpose of a new special commission in fact hunting down Russian influence, or hindering opponents during the autumn parliamentary election campaign? As is often the case in Poland, two competing narratives are at odds following President Andrzej Duda’s ratification on Monday, 29 May, of a law setting up a majority-dominated parliamentary commission to investigate Russian influence in Poland in the years 2007-2022.

Already dubbed the “Lex Tusk” by its detractors, who see it as a tool to hinder the candidacy of Donald Tusk, the leader of the liberal Civic Platform (PO) party, the new law empowers this parliamentary commission with the ability to ban any person it deems to have colluded with Russia from holding a position related to the use of public money or requiring access to classified information, for a maximum period of ten years.

The accused will of course be able to appeal to the administrative courts, and an administrative judge may, but is not obliged to, suspend the ban pending appeal. But as the new parliamentary commission plans to start work most probably in June, and publish its first report in September – just before the elections, the exact date of which has yet to be set – those in the dock can only be cleared by the administrative justice system after the elections.

“Those who have nothing to reproach themselves for have nothing to fear,” declared Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. This was also Andrzej Duda’s main message at a press conference, where he explained why he had signed the controversial law, and why he had decided to submit it to the Constitutional Court for a ruling on its conformity with the Polish constitution. He did so under a procedure that does not suspend the entry into force of the new law, however, which came into effect on May 31.

This has prompted reactions from Brussels and Washington, including a heated debate in the European Parliament last week, as well as a press release from the US State Department on May 29 saying that the Biden administration “share[s] the concerns expressed by many observers that this law to create a commission to investigate Russian influence could be used to block the candidacy of opposition politicians without due process”.

This assertion is disputed by Jerzy Kwaśniewski, president of the Ordo Iuris lawyers’ association, who is also highly critical of the law, as he deems it badly written and unconstitutional. “This is a very bad law “, wrote Kwaśniewski on May 30 on his Twitter account, “mainly because, being ineptly drafted, it puts power into the hands of the special services, it will be ineffective, and it is going to make a mockery of an important cause But the Lex Tusk can in no way block anyone’s candidacy in an election. There is no such thing in this law!

I don’t quite understand the reaction of our allies”, President Duda said in an interview with Bloomberg. “I don’t know if they were misled by opposition politicians, if they were misled by errors in translating the bill — or if someone just didn’t explain it.

The European Commissioner for Justice, Belgium’s Didier Reynders, has been given another opportunity to meddle in Poland’s internal affairs. He has already promised that “the Commission will not hesitate to take measures if needed, because it is impossible to agree on such a system”. This is occurring at a time when the Commission is still blocking Poland’s share of the Next Generation EU recovery funds.

This special parliamentary commission of inquiry will be able to look not only at candidates, but also at members of parliament, local councillors, civil servants, and also members of the boards of directors and supervisory boards of public companies whose actions might have been influenced by Russia and therefore may have been detrimental to Poland.

This commission is to have nine members. Some of its members would normally be appointed by the opposition parties, but the parliamentary opposition has already indicated that it intends to boycott both the establishment and the work of this new commission of inquiry.

In addition to the liberal opposition, a potential target could be the Konfederacja coalition of nationalists and libertarians, a liberal-conservative opposition to the right of PiS which today has 11 deputies in the Sejm. Polls show that Konfederacja could hold the key to forming a majority coalition after the next elections. Several Konfederacja members have been critical of Poland’s massive support for Ukraine since the start of the Russian offensive.

It’s clear that Donald Tusk and his political base feel guilty, and that’s why they think the commission is directed against Donald Tusk”, said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for State Assets Jacek Sasin. “Indeed, Donald Tusk has reason to feel guilty, as his policy was openly pro-Russian. We can cite many facts, and for me the most shocking are those linked to Poland’s energy dependence: the decisions that were made at the time, the gas agreement signed with Russia and with Gazprom – the very favourable approach to this Russian partner, with the cancellation of the fees it should have paid for gas transport, as well as the attempted sale of Lotos. These are well-known facts. (…) Donald Tusk’s public statements have been cited many times, for example when he rejected an investment such as the Baltic Pipe by pointing out that, after all, we have contracts with Russia and don’t need gas from other sources. ”

As far as Donald Tusk is concerned, PiS MPs also intend to focus on the fact that the investigation into the Smolensk disaster of 2010 was turned over to the Russians.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia retained influence over the former Eastern Bloc countries through its relations with their former special services, as well as by making use of documentation on agents and collaborators of the former Communist regimes’ secret police that Moscow is suspected of having retained and exploited. There is therefore a legitimate reason to definitively put an end to these old networks, which were subsequently supported or replaced by more traditional networks of corruption. But the establishment of such a commission in the run-up to the elections and the extensive powers conferred on it can only raise doubts about the parliamentary majority’s intentions and how it intends to use it.

On Sunday, a large demonstration that had been planned by the liberal opposition gathered between 150,000 and 300,000 people in Warsaw who came to protest against this law in particular. It was the largest protest against the government since PiS returned to power in 2015. President Duda had already proposed a series of amendments to the new law on Friday.