(Bloomberg) -- Poland’s president hit back at criticism from the US and the European Union over a law that would potentially put the country’s opposition leader under investigation ahead of a crucial election, saying the objections are unjustified.
President Andrzej Duda offered to speak with President Joe Biden directly to explain new legislation that would create a special committee to probe alleged Russian meddling in Poland. The US and the EU said the panel, which would likely target opposition leader Donald Tusk, could be misused to sway a tightly contested vote slated for October.
The torrent of criticism after Duda approved the legislation Monday caught the establishment in Warsaw off guard.
“I don’t quite understand the reaction of our allies,” Duda said in an interview in his office in the Presidential Palace in Warsaw Tuesday. “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 clash casts a shadow over Poland’s efforts to forge closer transatlantic ties, in which Duda has been instrumental in asserting the country’s central role as a main access point for efforts from NATO and its allies to defend Ukraine. Biden has visited the country twice since the war began in February last year and the US has deployed 10,000 troops to Poland.
Duda, who has developed a personal friendship with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has himself gained traction as a lead advocate of tank and jet deliveries to Kyiv.
The new legislation gives the investigative panel unprecedented powers, including the ability to effectively prevent officials from pursuing public office, bypassing the regular court system.
The US State Department said the panel could block opposition candidates “without due process.” The European Commission echoed that assessment, saying it’s considering taking action, compounding a long-running conflict over the eastern EU member state’s adherence to the rule of law.
In a letter to the Polish government, Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders urgently sought an analysis of the legislation, reiterating that the commission has “serious concerns” over its adherence to EU law.
“It grants significant powers to an administrative body which could be used to bar individuals from public office and which hence could restrict their rights,” Reynders wrote.
Duda quibbled with any such reading, reinforcing the government’s stance that the law contains a right to appeal and “absolutely doesn’t” prevent candidates from seeking office. Critics say the appeal process could take years to reverse any initial decision.
‘Society Deserves to Know’
Beyond the legal wrangling, an investigative panel raises the prospect of a public grilling of Tusk, the former president of the European Council, in the months ahead of the election. The ruling Law & Justice party under Jaroslaw Kaczynski has for years accused Tusk of tolerating Russian influence during his premiership from 2007 to 2014.
Opposition figures have called any such inquiry tantamount to a witch hunt against Tusk. Duda, who didn’t mention the opposition leader, echoed the government’s stance that an investigation is necessary to lay bare Russian influence in the country.
“Polish society deserves to know whether someone, while performing a specific public function, was actually subject to any Russian influence,” the president said. “People have a right to this knowledge.”
The grievances over Russia trace their origin to the 2010 plane crash that killed Kaczynski’s twin brother Lech — Poland’s president at the time — and 95 others, including a swathe of the country’s elite.
While investigators attributed the crash in western Russia to pilot error in dense fog, Kaczynski and his allies have promoted the circumstances of the air disaster into a theory widely believed by his supporters that effectively blames Tusk for the tragedy through administrative errors.
Poland’s parliament has yet to appoint the panel’s nine members, who will be tasked with producing an initial report by Sept. 17, weeks before the vote. Opinion polls show Law & Justice short of a majority, even as it maintains a lead over Tusk’s Civic Platform.
Duda’s decision to approve the bill just days after passage contrasts with other moments when he’s proved to be a check against the ruling party’s more controversial proposals. In 2021, he vetoed legislation that aimed to force out the owner of TVN television, currently controlled by Warner Bros Discovery Inc.
“In the US, various decisions are made, judgments are passed, various commissions are set up,” Duda said. “It’s supposed to be the same for us. So I don’t see a problem here, unless someone is spreading misinformation.”
(Updates with letter from European Commission in ninth paragraph.)
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