Poland opposes EU day against death penalty

Poland is opposing the creation of a yearly 'European day against the death Penalty', arguing that the issue should form part of a broader discussion on life and death – including abortion and euthanasia.

In a meeting of EU member states' justice experts in Brussels on Tuesday (4 September), Poland opposed a draft EU declaration announcing the bloc will from now on organize a European day against the death Penalty each year on 10 October.

The draft declaration should be signed by the EU jointly with the 47-member human rights body the Council of Europe - before next month when the first death penalty day has been scheduled.

But Poland is against the initiative, which was formally proposed by the European Commission in June.

"We don't think that the idea is reasonable because the death penalty is not a problem in Europe. There is no use to promote the law that is already in force in every European country," the spokesman for Polish foreign minister Ana Fotyga told EUobserver.

In arguments greeted with astonishment by some of its EU partners, Poland said in Tuesday's meeting that the idea of the "right to life" cannot be reduced to the death penalty problem alone - and so the issue does not merit a special European day.

"We think that when anybody wants to discuss a problem of death in the context of the law it is also worth to discuss on euthanasia and abortion in this context," the Polish spokesman explained.

"We are not sure whether it is worth establishing a special day [only on the death penalty]," he added.

The European Commission rejected the link between the death penalty and other "right to life" issues. "In our view the context of the discussion is limited and clear. The subject of the debate is the death penalty," a spokesman said.

Meanwhile, another factor behind Warsaw's position on the issue appears to be domestic public opinion, with a Polish diplomat indicating that "some polls show that Polish public opinion is divided on the subject."

The European day against the death Penalty should come in addition to the 'World Day against the Death Penalty', which has taken place on 10 October every year since 2003.

In the draft declaration opposed by the Poles, the EU and the Council of Europe "stress the importance of persevering in the pursuit of actions aimed at abolishing the death penalty in the world."

The two organisations "invite European citizens to support the abolition of the death penalty in the world and thereby contribute to the development of fundamental rights and human dignity."

Warsaw's move comes ahead of a meeting of EU justice ministers on 18 September which would formally give the go-ahead for the death penalty day.

Member states' ambassadors to the EU are expected to discuss the issue on Thursday (6 September).

Since the declaration establishing the death penalty day is subject to unanimous agreement in the EU Council, the member states' decision-making body, Poland's position could block the initiative altogether.

The commission is confident that the day will be established. "We expect that the declaration can and will be adopted by all three institutions, including the Council, in time for the launching of the European day against the death penalty to be held from this year onwards on 10 October," the commission spokesman said.

The European Parliament for its part, has already given its approval of the scheme.

[Source: By Mark Beunderman, Euobserver, Brussels, 05sep07]

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