EC: Improve the framework in which the Ombudsperson operate in Poland, taking into account European standards

  • The framework for the functioning of the Commissioner for Human Rights in Poland should be improved, taking into account European standards - recommends the European Commission
  • This is one of the seven recommendations included in the EC's Annual Rule of Law Report
  • The report is an essential element of the EU rule of law mechanism aimed at supporting the rule of law in the member states and preventing the emergence or escalation of problems.

On 13 March 2022 the European Commission published the third annual Rule of Law Report. The Report examines developments in four key areas for the rule of law: justice systems, the anti-corruption framework, media pluralism and freedom, and other institutional issues linked to checks and balances.
The publication includes an overview of the trends in the EU as a whole and 27 country chapters looking at developments in every Member State since July 2021.

Ombudsman plays a key role as a rule of law safeguard

In the report, the EC stresses that the National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), Ombudspersons, equality bodies and other independent authorities have continued to play a role in the national system of checks and balances. In some Member States, the status of such authorities has been further strengthened.
In country chapter on Poland the Commission noted that the new Ombudsperson continues to play a key role as a rule of law safeguard, while constrained by limited resources. EC also noted that he was appointed with broad parliamentary support.
The report notes the strong involvement of the Office of the Ombudsman in humanitarian situation on the Polish-Belarusian border and in providing assistance to refugees from Ukraine.
The commission also noted that The Ombudsperson’s cooperation with state authorities remains difficult, including due to the authorities’ refusal to react to the Ombudsperson’s statements or to take into account his comments and recommendations as regards legislative drafts.
It has been emphasized that the Polish Ombudsman has the highest accreditation status (A) granted by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions of the United Nations (GANHRI). This means that its activities are fully compliant with the so-called UN Paris Principles. They set out internationally agreed minimum standards that must be met by national human rights institutions in order to be credible.
In the report, the Commission also informs that Polish "public authorities have not increased the budget of the CHR for 2022, thus limiting his ability to perform his role". In this respect, the EC report is based on information from the first half of 2021. It should be emphasized that in the second half of 2021, the CHR received additional funds for the year 2022. However, this is still insufficient in relation to the needs of the Office of the Commissioner.
In the chapter on Poland, multiple times the European Commission refers to speeches and positions presented by the Ombudsman on the issues discussed in the report.

Commission's recommendations to Poland

The report contains specific recommendations addressed to each Member State concerning the upholding of democratic values, human rights and the rule of law.
In recommendations addressed to Poland the EC recommends among others to improve the framework in which the Ombudsperson operate, taking into account European standards on Ombudsinstitutions.
The Commission, in addition to recalling the need to address the serious concerns relating to judicial independence, as well as the obligation to comply with the rule of law related rulings of the ECJ, the commitments made under the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, and recalling the relevant country-specific recommendations under the European Semester, it is recommended to Poland to:

  • Separate the function of the Minister of Justice from that of the Prosecutor-General and ensure functional independence of the prosecution service from the Government.
  • Strengthen the existing integrity rules by introducing lobbying rules and a standardised online system for asset declarations of public officials and Members of Parliament.
  • Ensure independent and effective investigations and prosecutions, address the broad scope of immunities for top executives and abstain from introducing impunity clauses in legislation in order to enable a robust track record of high-level corruption cases.
  • Ensure that fair, transparent and non-discriminatory procedures are adhered to for the granting of operating licences to media outlets.
  • Strengthen the rules and mechanisms to enhance the independent governance and editorial independence of public service media taking into account European standards on public service media.
  • Ensure a more systematic follow-up to findings by the Supreme Audit Office and ensure a swift appointment of the College Members of the Supreme Audit Office.
  • Improve the framework in which civil society and the Ombudsperson operate, taking into account European standards on civil society and Ombudsinstitutions.

The recommendations are intended to encourage Member States to take forward ongoing or planned reforms and help them identify where improvements are needed. Subsequent editions of the Rule of Law Report will look at the follow-up given to the recommendations.
The annual Rule of Law Report is the result of close dialogue with national authorities and stakeholders, and covers all Member States on an objective and impartial basis, looking at the same issues. The report is at the centre of the European Rule of Law Mechanism which is a yearly cycle to promote the rule of law and prevent problems from emerging or deepening.