Reforms raise tensions between Brussels and Warsaw

Written by Colin Mackay on 6 January 2016 in News

Poles attack European commission over 'weekend interviews' responding to changes in country's legal and media laws.

Controversial reforms to the media and constitutional court in Poland are threatening relations between the EU and Poland's ruling party.

Polish foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, has asked the EU's ambassador to a meeting in Warsaw saying he wanted to clarify recent criticism by the European Commission of changes in the law in the country, describing them as "strange and unclear statements" and accusing the college of megaphone diplomacy.

"We want to clarify why the Commissioners are not using the official channels of communication with the Polish government, but rather give weekend interviews to the German press."


The request follows statements on Sunday by German Commissioner Günther Oettinger in newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that Warsaw should be placed under the EU's rule of law supervision.

Tensions have grown since the election victory in Poland by the Law and Justice (PiS) party in October. PiS, which is Eurosceptic and favours conservative Catholicism, is introducing sweeping reforms, affecting the constitutional court and the media.

There have also been criticisms of changes to the make-up of Poland's constitutional court. However, the PiS party has responded by claiming that the reforms were necessary to clear out existing placemen appointed under the previous administration

The court itself has described the appointments by the previous government as problematic, but has ruled that the replacements are illegal.

Warsaw has dismissed criticism of its controversial appointments to the constitutional court last month, saying they were necessary to replace cronies appointed by the outgoing government.

The constitutional court ruled the last government's judicial appointments problematic but the replacement appointments illegal.

On the issue of media reforms, a number of EU leaders have voiced concerns. Council of Europe human rights Commissioner Nils Muiznieks has urged Polish President Andrzej Duda not to approve the new media legislation.

The European Broadcasting Union agrees, emphasising that "the integrity and independence of public media symbolises a free and democratic country."

Meanwhile, Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans has written to the government in Poland, reminding them of the importance of a pluralist media in a pluralist society. Once again, however, Warsaw has defended the changes, claiming they were necessary to address left-wing bias in the media.

In recent interview with German daily newspaper, Bild, Waszczykowski said that, "a world of cyclists and vegetarians who push for renewable energy and fight all forms of religion has nothing to do with traditional Polish values", and that resistance to such bias was vital.

About the author

Colin Mackay is a Brussels-based writer and editorial consultant

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