Freely elected officials determine and implement laws and policies without interference, although PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński, who was appointed deputy prime minister in September 2020 and had previously played a dominant role in government despite not holding an official executive post, has considerable influence over government affairs. Throughout its mandate, PiS has sought to limit parliamentary scrutiny of legislation through various means, such as the use of bills by private MPs that do not require consultation or impact assessment; unexpectedly introducing legislation at the last minute, sometimes in the middle of the night; and limiting the opposition`s ability to challenge or change laws. The Commission said the Polish Constitutional Court had breached EU law. The EU has “serious doubts about the independence and impartiality” of the Polish court, the Commission said in a statement. People are generally free to have private discussions on political and other issues without fear of harassment or detention by the authorities. However, Poland has harsh defamation laws, including against hurting religious feelings and insulting the president, which have been increasingly used in recent years to prosecute criminal cases. The government continued its attacks on independent media. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Poland has fallen from 18th to 64th place in the press freedom index since the PiS came to power in 2015. Smear campaigns and lawsuits against journalists and media outlets remained a problem.
The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and prohibits censorship, although defamation laws have been used to harass journalists. Since 2015, nearly 200 lawsuits have been filed against independent media and journalists by politicians and pro-government entities. Strengthening consumer protection: Two draft laws on strengthening consumer protection are being prepared. It transposes Directive 2019/2161 (with a view to better enforcement and modernisation of Union consumer protection rules) and Regulation (EU) 2017/2394 (on cooperation between national authorities responsible for the enforcement of consumer protection laws and repealing Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004). According to the draft laws, the Polish competition authority will be given more powers, for example: the right to carry out searches (and not just inspections) of companies in cases concerning the protection of consumers` interests. In addition, consumers will be better protected in the digital domain. The bills will also eliminate certain unfair practices used by companies when selling at events. They are expected to enter into force quickly and enter into force in 2022. Anti-competitive agreements – first fines imposed on individuals: For the first time, the Polish Competition Authority imposed fines on persons in management positions who were involved in anti-competitive agreements between companies. So far, such fines have been imposed in three cases: two concerned horizontal agreements concerning, inter alia, price-fixing and market sharing, and one concerned vertical restraints on resale prices.
There are cases pending, so we can expect more decisions next year imposing fines on individuals. Since coming to power in 2015, the PiS government has moved aggressively to take control of the judiciary by passing laws to limit the powers of traditional knowledge and installing pro-government judges on its benches. In a May 2021 ruling, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) declared that traditional knowledge is not a “legally established court” because at least one of its judges has been appointed illegally. Citizens have the right to own property and to set up private enterprises. However, a 2016 law imposed onerous restrictions on the sale and ownership of farmland, ostensibly to protect smallholder farmers. The state and religious institutions are not bound by the new restrictions. Disciplinary cases would be heard by a new panel of 11 Supreme Court judges drawn by lot. Ethnic, religious and other minorities fully enjoy their political rights and choices. However, LGBT+ people face significant challenges when it comes to entering politics and having their interests represented in Polish politics in practice.
Homophobic rhetoric from government officials, including President Duda, is common; PiS and its media allies have frequently used homophobic rhetoric to warn of the alleged dangers of LGBT+ rights. Despite these challenges, Robert Biedroń, an openly gay member of the European Parliament, was nominated as a presidential candidate in 2020 by an alliance of three left-wing parties.