Poland’s president proposes urgent amendments to law on Russian influence

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish President Andrzej Duda said Friday that he was proposing urgent amendments to a law on Russian influence he signed this week that drew U.S. and European Union criticism.

Duda said he was aware of objections, including in Poland, to the law proposed by the governing conservative Law and Justice party and was addressing them by sending proposed revisions to parliament.

He urged Polish lawmakers to act swiftly, but it was not clear how fast the two-house national legislature would chose to proceed.

He insisted the law was needed for the sake of public transparency and also to prevent Russia from influencing Poland’s security.

In its current form, the law would create a powerful committee, ostensibly meant to investigate Russian influence in Poland. However, critics see it as primarily targeting opposition leader Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister who also served as a 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 favorable to Russia before he went to Brussels to be the president of the European Council between 2014 and 2019.

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 a parliamentary election later this year.

Opponents said the urgent amendments indicated a retreat by Duda, who holds a PhD in law.

“It is unbelievable that a person who has a doctor’s degree in law has not read the bill through,” said Robert Kropiwnicki, a lawmaker with the Civic Coalition, an opposition political alliance. “He needed four days to read it, understand it and is now amending it.”

The U.S. State Department and 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 the law was reviewed by nonpartisan experts, that no lawmakers would sit on the commission and that its findings wouldn’t ban anyone from holding public offices. He said he was also strengthening the right to a court appeal for investigated individuals.

Duda, who is aligned with Law and Justice, said Friday he was reacting to the public outcry. Law and Justice party leader Jarosław Kaczyński and Tusk are longtime political rivals. It wasn’t clear whether Duda consulted the governing party about the proposed amendments.

Party spokesman Rafał Bochenk reacted by saying that the “main goal of the bill remains unchanged” despite the announced amendments. He stressed that the goal was to “show the truth about Russia’s covert influences in Poland.”

Duda said, however, that former Law and Justice treasury minister, Wojciech Jasiński, and ex-Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak should appear before the commission to explain major gas deals they signed with Russia almost two decades ago.

The commission is meant to present a report of its findings by Sept. 17 and could impose punishments, including 10-year bans on officials from positions that have control over spending public funds. The timeline means the report would come out not long before the election expected to take place in October or November.

Members of parliament approved the law, dubbed by critics “Lex Tusk,” last week. Although he is allowed 21 days to consider new legislation before signing or vetoing it, Duda signed the Russian influence measure on Tuesday. The law is set to take effect effect next week.

“President Duda has applied the right of veto against his own signature,” Szymon Holownia, head of the opposition party Poland 2050, said of the announced amendments.

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.