EU Won't Rush to Punish Poland Over Court, Broadcaster Laws

  • Commission's Jan. 13 debate is for `orientation' purposes only
  • Poland's new government faces criticism for media, court laws

The European Commission won’t rush to discipline Poland’s new government over laws that increase its power over the high court and national broadcaster.

The commission, the European Union’s executive branch, plans an “orientation debate” over the laws on Jan. 13 and will not start formally monitoring Poland for straying from democratic standards, spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters in Brussels on Monday.

Poland’s Law & Justice party has aroused criticism in western Europe for increasing its influence over the Constitutional Court and public broadcaster following its return to power in October after eight years in opposition. The monitoring procedure, reserved for systemic violations of European democratic norms, has gone unused since it was set up in March 2014, despite criticism of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for consolidating the power of his ruling Fidesz party.

There’s no reason for the commission to be concerned, and the government is legally acting to “end the pathology” plaguing Polish politics, Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski told TVN24 television on Monday. A day earlier, he criticized media for supporting “new cultures and races, a world of cyclists and vegetarians who focus only on renewable energy and fight every form of religion,” which doesn’t mirror traditional Polish values, according to an interview with German newspaper Bild.

Waszczykowski also blamed opposition politicians for stoking unrest about Poland abroad, adding they were acting against the country’s interest. The commission is awaiting Poland’s reply to two letters sent over the Christmas break asking for more information about the laws, Schinas said.

Four European media freedom organizations have issued a complaint calling on Poland to abandon the draft law that would allow the government to directly appoint executives to public broadcasters. The legislation, which has been approved but still requires President Andrzej Duda’s signature, threatens media freedoms and could compromise guarantees that the public broadcaster remain independent, according to a summary of the complaint by the Council of Europe.

Any attempt to discipline Poland would required a unanimous vote among the EU states. That could prove hard to muster so the process will be slow, said Piotr Buras, head of the Warsaw office at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“At the same time, the EU will need to tread carefully,” Buras said. “Too much pressure coming from Brussels will only serve to strengthen the support for the ruling party among its core electorate.”

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