WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s highest constitutional court is to scrutinize a European pact on violence against women, the prime minister said on Thursday, after a cabinet member said Warsaw should quit the treaty which the nationalist government considers too liberal.
Controversy over the Istanbul Convention threatens to worsen frictions between the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and European Union (EU) institutions anxious about democratic standards and rights in Poland.
“I’ve decided to ask the Constitutional Tribunal to examine whether the convention is in line with the Polish constitution,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a news conference.
The PiS and its partners align themselves with the Catholic Church and object to the Council of Europe convention as disrespectful of religion and potentially undermining family values with its description of gender as a “social” role.
Morawiecki said Poland had taken big steps to protect women through legislation and other means, and he wanted to acknowledge worries the pact had an “ideological” basis. “These are serious concerns and we can’t overlook them,” he said.
Earlier this week, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro asked the Labour Ministry to begin withdrawing Poland from the treaty.
Morawiecki did not clarify if Poland would press on with that or wait for the constitutional court’s conclusions.
The move comes after PiS ally Andrzej Duda won a presidential election this month following a campaign where opponents accused him of making homophobic statements.
Rights groups and EU bodies are concerned at what many see as a backsliding in women’s and LGBT rights in Poland.
In a statement earlier this week, Marija Pejcinovic Buric, head of the Council of Europe – the continent’s main human rights watchdog – said Poland’s withdrawal from its convention against women’s violence would a major backward step.
“If there are any misconceptions or misunderstandings about the Convention, we are ready to clarify them in a constructive dialogue,” she added.
Also this week, a French official said Poland could be “hit in the wallet” thanks to new mechanisms in the EU budget if it withdrew from the treaty.
Earlier this month, the European Council comprising all member governments discussed a mechanism that would tie EU funds to rule of law, targeting Poland and Hungary.
Poland had ratified the Istanbul treaty under a previous centrist government in 2015.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska, Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Cawthorne)