October 28, 2016

EU commission criticism upsets Warsaw

The Polish foreign ministry has summoned the European Commission’s top official in Warsaw to clarify criticism of its new media law.
Polish foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski told the TVN24 broadcaster on Tuesday (5 January) the “courtesy talk” is needed after German EU commissioner Gunther Oettinger spoke out in German press on Sunday.

The Polish minister mentioned “strange, unclear statements of some European commissioners, who, based on press reports … start to judge Poland.”
He added: “We want to clarify why the commissioners are not using official channels of communication with the Polish government, but [prefer to] give weekend interviews to the German press.”

The commission will, on 13 January, hold an internal debate on the Polish situation, with Oettinger saying it might merit special monitoring leading to EU Council sanctions.

Gazeta Wyborcza, a Polish daily, reports that Waszczykowski has so far failed to reply to two commission letters from December, asking him to justify how the media law, as well as a reform of the Constitutional Tribunal, fit with EU norms on free press and separation of powers.

The Polish president Andrzej Duda, who is also loyal to Waszczykowski’s ruling Law and Justice party, is due in the EU capital on 18 January.

But his office says the trip was planned prior to the controversial reforms.

The Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog in Strasbourg, France, has also entered the debate.

Its head, Norwegian politician Thorbjorn Lagland, wrote to Duda on Tuesday to “express [his] particular concern with regard to the new law on public service braodcasting … and the impact it may have on the integrity and independence of public service media, as a vital condition for democracy.”

He invited Poland to start a “dialogue” with his experts.

The media law lets the PiS treasury minister fire heads of state TV and radio at his personal discretion.

The constitutional changes insert PiS-friendly judges at the top court and make it harder for the tribunal to vet new laws.

PiS says the reforms are needed because media and judges in the past showed bias for a liberal elite associated with the opposition Civic Platform party.

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