Alarming pressure on civil society: Polish EESC member becomes a target of government retaliation and NGOs no longer able to choose their own candidates

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Statement by José Antonio Moreno Díaz, President of the Group on Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law (FRRL) and Jukka Ahtela,  Vice-president of the Group on Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law

It has come to the attention of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) that in the run-up to its next term of office, when EESC members will be chosen and appointed for another five-year period, retaliation is being carried out against one of our members for her work in this current term.

In the past months, we have been informed that Ms Karolina Dreszer-Smalec has been subject to pressure that is now culminating in the Polish authorities coming out publicly against her.

Ms Dreszer-Smalec has been a valued member of our committee since 2015. She is a member of the Diversity Europe Group, which represents civil society organisations in Europe covering a range of interests, and was nominated for this position because of her work as vice-president of the National Federation of Polish NGOs (OFOP), the biggest Polish CSO platform, and vice-president of the National Platforms at the European Civic Forum (ECF). In 2018, Ms Dreszer-Smalec was  appointed vice-president of the EESC Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law Group (FRRL Group). In 2020, Diversity Europe Group elected her as EESC quaestor for the next term of office up to 2023.

Remarks in the public arena targeting Ms Dreszer-Smalec seek to depict her as too “controversial” for her EESC membership to be extended, even though she has been appointed to a senior position of responsibility in the committee for the next term of office. Mr Wojciech Kaczmarczyk, for example, director of the National Freedom Institute – Centre for Civil Society Development, commented publicly on Ms Dreszer-Smalec’s involvement in the EESC FFRL Group's visit to Poland in 2018. This had led, he said, to the report from the visit containing “false information, even lies” and her involvement in its drafting “cast a shadow on her future presence in this body”.

This explicit threat has been accompanied by disregard for the normal procedure for selecting Polish CSO representatives to the EESC. This situation has prevented them from choosing their own candidates as they wish, in a specific procedure that differs from the one applied to the country's social partners (who can freely nominate their candidates for the EESC's other two groups – the Workers' Group and the Employers' Group).

This retaliation against members is a further step towards intimidating CSOs working in defence of fundamental rights and the rule of law.

We are concerned that the Polish authorities should choose to openly retaliate against our members for their work on behalf of the EESC. This retaliation against members is a further step towards intimidating CSOs working in defence of fundamental rights and the rule of law.

The country reports published by the FRRL Group faithfully relay the views of the civil society representatives consulted during the visits – they do not reflect the EESC members’ views and Ms Dreszer-Smalec did not use her position in any way to influence what was in the report. Moreover, while it is the role of the EESC to focus on the voice of civil society, great care has been paid to ensuring that the views of the authorities are also reflected in the reports. In addition, the Polish authorities have benefited from a right of reply and such a response was published along with the report.

The retaliation we are now seeing clearly violates the independence of EESC members, which is protected by Article 300(4) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU). The TFEU clearly states that: "The members of the Economic and Social Committee […] shall not be bound by any mandatory instructions. They shall be completely independent in the performance of their duties, in the Union's general interest." Such retaliation thus also risks having a chilling effect on the work of the members from Poland as well as on local CSOs.

These moves by the Polish authorities are also of great concern in view of the Treaty on the European Union's Article 7 procedure against Poland. In the Reasoned Proposal underpinning the Article 7 procedure, the European Commission mentioned, among other things, the centralisation of the distribution of funds, including for civil society organisations.

Given the baseless attacks and overt pressure, we are extremely worried that Ms Dreszer-Smalec could come under further pressure and hindrance to her work in Poland.

We cannot accept that the independence of our committee and the integrity of our member be put in doubt and we will remain firm and vigilant on these points. The Polish authorities must cease interfering in the committee's work and exerting pressure on Ms Dreszer-Smalec. More than ever there must be room for transparent and constructive dialogue.

José Antonio Moreno Díaz, President of the EESC Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law Group
Jukka Ahtela, Vice-president of the EESC Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law Group

See Ms Dreszer-Smalec's EESC profile

At the request of Mr. Kaczmarczyk, we publish his reply to the statement.
The statement by the President and Vice President of the Fundamental Rights and Rule of law Group was subsequently endorsed by the Group.


Letter by Mr Kaczmarczyk

FRRL report on Poland

Observations by the Polish government to the FRRL Report on Poland