College of Commissioners debate Polish provocations

Written by Colin Mackay on 13 January 2016 in News

As the row over Poland's legislative changes continues, the European Commission has debated whether to increase the pressure on Warsaw.

The college of Commissioners orientation debate has discussed today (13 Jan) how it plans to respond to the controversial changes in the law enacted by the new Law and Justice party (PiS)-led Polish Government. 

The moves have included political appointments to the supreme court and a wholesale purge of staff in the public broadcasting service.

There is clear disquiet over the current situation, but whether any serious sanction will be applied remains to be seen. In theory, the college could call for Poland to be stripped of its EU voting rights. 


However, Brussels has never invoked such powers before, and the possibilities at this stage appear slim. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has already urged caution, saying the difficulties should not be 'overdramatised'. The European Parliament will debate any decision on 19 January. 

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has warned he will veto any censure. Speaking on national radio, he said; "The European Union should not think about applying any sort of sanctions against Poland. That would require full unanimity and Hungary will never support any sort of sanctions against Poland." He urged the EU to pay greater respect to Poland, "because they deserve it."

Warsaw shows no sign of backing down over the recent changes. Justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro has written to Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, asking for, "more restraint in instructing and cautioning the parliament and government of a sovereign and democratic state in the future." He suggested that they should overcome any "ideological differences."

Ziobro expressed incredulity on the criticisms over changes to the Polish constitutional court, which seems to have removed many of the checks and balances on executive power. He argued that the previous executive had installed its own placemen and had "contravened the principle of pluralism of constitutional court."

Meanwhile, under new laws governing media, senior figures in public radio and television will now be under direct government control. The government said the changes were required to prevent criticism of the moves and to promote "national traditions and patriotic values". 

The new chief of Polish public television, Jacek Kurski, a former PiS politician, has accused the west of cultural aggression. He singled out the Eurovision song contest, in particular 2014 winner, Conchita Wurst, whom he described as "attacking elementary good taste and the principle of the Polish family."

Ironically, one potential consequence of the changes to Poland's media laws is that it may be thrown out of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), and as a result, the Eurovision song contest. Participant countries must be members of the EBU, and must be able to guarantee their independence. 

How much a blow this is likely to be is difficult to ascertain. Poland have never hosted or won the contest, and its best performance remains the runners-up spot they secured in its debut year, 1994. 

About the author

Colin Mackay is a Brussels-based writer and editorial consultant

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