Poland is a democratic unity state. It was passed in a
new constitution in 1997. The head of state is a president,
elected directly in the general election for five years,
with the possibility of one re-election. Before that, Poland
was a republic from 1918 and a communist and Soviet-
dominated people's republic from 1945 to 1989.
The president has executive functions, especially in
security and foreign policy matters, but there has been some
rivalry between the president and the prime minister. The
Prime Minister is nominated by the President and must be
approved by the Sejm.
The national Assembly
Legislative authority has been added to a national
assembly consisting of Sejm (Second Chamber) and a Senate
(First Chamber). Sejm has 460 members and is elected in
general elections both from single -person circles and
according to the ratio method; two of the seats are reserved
for the German minority. The Senate has 100 members elected
from the counties in general elections by majority vote.
Both chambers are selected simultaneously and for four
years. Sejm is the main chamber. The Senate goes through
resolutions passed by Sejm and may propose amendments, but
Sejm can implement its will by a two-thirds majority. The
government is based on Sejm and is accountable to it. Also see AbbreviationFinder for abbreviation of PL and its meanings of Poland.
The justice sector
After the Polish state was restored in 1918, after being
under Russian supremacy, long legal inequality prevailed.
Former Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian law was still
applicable in the regions concerned. During the inter-war
period, justice was worked, and the court was codified to a
significant extent. After the Second World War, the legal
system was reworked and reorganized in conjunction with the
political new regime under the influence of Soviet law,
before it was again changed and democratized after 1989. The
death penalty was abolished in 1997.
The judiciary is ordinarily exercised by a series of
courts of three courts: the Supreme Court of Warsaw, the
appeals courts in the counties (also the first instance
courts in serious cases) and the courts (district courts).
The Supreme Court judges are appointed by the President on a
proposal from the National Judicial Council. The Supreme
Court has oversight of the other courts. There is also a
Constitutional Court, headed by the Supreme Court's First
President; the judges are elected by Sejm for nine years.
After the Party of Law and Justice (PiS) gained a pure
majority in the parliamentary elections on October 25, 2015,
Sejm passed a new constitutional law, signed by President
Andrzej Duda December 29, 2015. According to the new law,
decisions by the court require two-thirds majority, whereas
in the past a simple majority was sufficient. It is also
required that at least 13 of the 15 judges be present in the
handling of controversial cases, while at least nine judges
were previously sufficient.
The new law has been criticized by, among others,
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, President
of the European Parliament Martin Schulz and the Council of
Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland. On March 9,
2016, the Constitutional Court ruled that the new law does
not comply with the country's constitution. In agreement
with Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, the new law was
reviewed by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.
For information on this commission, see the article on the
Council of Europe.
According to the Commission's report, published on March
11, 2016, the changes in law could lead to a weakening of
the Constitutional Court's effectiveness, which could
undermine the rule of law, democracy and human rights in
Poland. The Venice Commission appealed to the government and
opposition parties in Poland to come up with a solution to
this case, allowing the court to operate effectively.
Following the European Commission's discussion of this
matter in January 2016, the European Parliament adopted on
13 April 2016 a resolution with the voting numbers 513 for,
142 against and 30 abstentions. In the resolution, which
states that the new law has led to paralysis of the
Constitutional Court, the European Parliament supports the
conclusions of the Venice Commission. EU Vice President
Frans Timmermann and Prime Minister Beata Szydło held talks
in Warsaw April 24, 2016 on this case. Following the talks,
Szydło stated that the rule of law will be upheld, while at
the same time the government's aim is that the work of the
Constitutional Court should be "open and effective".
However, the European Commission believes that the Polish
government has not taken the necessary measures to make the
Constitutional Court work as intended.
At the initiative of the government, a law was introduced
in July 2017 to reduce the retirement age of the country's
judges from 70 to 65 years. This has led to opposition and
criticism from the European Commission, which fears that the
government will replace the judges who have to step down
with judges who support the ruling party. The fear is that
this will weaken the independence of the courts. The
European Commission has also expressed concern that the
Minister of Justice is also the country's attorney general.
Against this backdrop, the European Commission has asked
Poland to reverse the judiciary reform, as the reform
represents an attack on democracy's principle of power
distribution with an executive, a legislative and a judicial
power. The Polish government has rejected this, claiming
that the European Commission is acting politically. In
February 2020, President Andrzej Duda passed a law,Sejm,
which makes it forbidden for judges to criticize the
government's judicial reform.
On 27 February 2020, the Norwegian government expressed
concern about the development of the rule of law and the
independence of the courts in Poland. This development has
had consequences for the agreement with Poland in the
justice sector, financed with EEA funds, see the article
Poland's relations with Norway.
Poland is divided into 16 counties (województwo), see the
article Counties in Poland. The counties are again divided
into 308 districts. At the last level is the elected council
that selects representatives for the county assemblies.
Political leaders in Poland
Overview of heads of state, partisans and prime ministers
Heads of state
Heads of State in Poland from 1918:
||Ignacy Jan Paderewski
||Władysław Raczkiewicz (in exile)
||Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski
Communist Party leaders 1943-1990:
||Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski
Prime Ministers of Poland from 1945:
||Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski
||Jan Krzysztof Bielecki
||Donald Franciszek Tusk
||Ewa Bożena Kopasz