The European Civic Forum condemns the retaliation of the Polish government against the re-election of Karolina Dreszer-Smalec representing the National Federation of Polish NGOs (OFOP) as member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)

On 30 June 2020, the European Civic Forum held its General Assembly. The members unanimously condemned the retaliation of the Polish government against the candidacy of Karolina Dreszer-Smalec, for her re-election in the EESC. Ms Dreszer-Smalec is Vice-President of the National Federation of Polish NGOs (OFOP), the largest and oldest federation of Polish NGOs. As a result, the Polish civic sector will be poorly represented inside the EESC.

All along a very opaque process that did not respect the official procedure for the elections of the Polish civil society representatives to the European Economic and Social Committee intense pressure has been put against the re-appointment of Ms Dreszer-Smalec, particularly due to the work she carried out inside the EESC Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law Group (FRRL Group).

Since 2015, Ms Dreszer-Smalec has been a member of the EESC Group III called Diversity Europe, which is due to represent various social and civic organisations that make up civil society in the Member States. Since 2018, she was appointed Vice-President of the Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law Group. In 2020, Diversity Europe Group elected her as EESC quaestor for the next term of office up to 2023. She would be the first Polish questor for the EESC nominated by Diversity Europe Group. However, Ms Dreszer-Smalec will not be reappointed by the Polish government as a member of the EESC, due to her work in the FRRL Group.

The Polish procedure to appoint representatives in the EESC foresees an agreement, a joint decision among the members of the Polish Public Benefit Council based on the candidates presented by local organisations. To reach this decision, this year informal talks were carried out in place of an open and transparent consultation and vote. According to several members of the Polish Public Benefit Council, these informal talks lacked transparency, and some were pressured not to vote for Ms Dreszer-Smalec.

The opposition to the appointment of Ms Dreszer-Smalec was particularly linked to her participation in the EESC FFRL Group’s study visit to Poland in 2018. During  the visit the EESC delegation met several representatives of Polish civic associations and the learnings were collected in a country report[1]. The report represents the views of the organisations on the ground, not of the EESC delegation. However, the director of the National Freedom Institute – Centre for Civil Society Development, the body created in 2017 to distribute some of the public funding for civil society, Mr Wojciech Kaczmarczyk, commented publicly on the report from the study visit that it contained “false information, even lies” and that Ms Dreszer-Smalec’s involvement in its drafting “casts a shadow on her future presence in this body”.

The final list of nominees could not be agreed by all members of the Polish Public Benefit Council; thus the decision was handed over to Piotr Glinski, Chairman of the Council and deputy Prime Minister. It does not include any representative of OFOP, the biggest platform of NGOs in Poland. Moreover, according to an article[2] by a Polish Journalist published on the NGO portal in Poland, the list includes other controversial nominations.

In a statement[3] which was endorsed by Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law Group 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 commented:

“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.”

For years, the European Civic Forum has been following closely with concern the deterioration of the rule of law and shrinking of the space for democratic civic organisations in Poland. We condemn the retaliation against Karolina Dreszer-Smalec, Vice-President of the European Civic Forum, which is a clear example of the pressures faced by civic organisations and voices considered as critical by the government.

Furthermore, our members and partners reported other types of irregularities in the national procedures for the nomination of EESC members in Croatia[4] and the Czech Republic. We condemn these undemocratic practices, especially the brutal and cynical attack against Ms Dreszer-Smalec. Their lack of transparency and accountability casts a shadow on the composition and the legitimacy of a European consultative institution. We call upon the EU institutions to take the necessary measures to respond to these attacks on fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.

[1] https://www.eesc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/files/20_42_a4_brochure_en.pdf

[2] https://publicystyka.ngo.pl/bitwa-o-ekes-przegral-dialog

[3] https://www.eesc.europa.eu/en/news-media/news/alarming-pressure-civil-society-polish-eesc-member-becomes-target-government-retaliation-and-ngos-no-longer-able-choose

[4] https://crosol.hr/eupresidency/en/election-of-members-of-the-european-economic-and-social-committee-in-croatia-civil-society-representatives-without-voices-from-civil-society/