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Can the Polish government afford to be at odds with the EU?

Alan MacKenzie
November 26, 2020

If anybody is acting against the rule of law, "it's not the Polish government, it's the European Commission," Polish MEP Ryszard Legutko told DW's Conflict Zone in a special interview at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum.

Polen Ryszard Legutko
Image: Wiktor Dabkowski/dpa/picture alliance

Ryszard Legutko on Conflict Zone

Poland's veto of the EU's budget, supported by its ally Hungary, has again set the country against its partners in the bloc.

With access to the budget attached to member states' adherence to the rule of law, Warsaw and Budapest are thumbing their noses at Brussels' attempts to challenge their purported move towards "illiberal" democracy.

In a special edition of Conflict Zone, recorded at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum, Polish MEP for the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) Ryszard Legutko said the rule of law mechanism was a "blatant" and "shameless violation" of the EU's treaties.

Belgien Brüssel | Europäische Kommission | Morawiecki und Orban
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said the row over the rule of law mechanism "is a question of sovereignty" and warned it could lead to the EU's endImage: Francois Lenoir/REUTERS

"It's not only that it's the violation of the rule of law, but it's based on lies or misinformation or disinformation," said the MEP and co-chair of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group.

Rule of law

Conflict Zone host Sarah Kelly challenged Legutko over what critics have called Poland's "muzzle law," which allows judges to be reprimanded or fired by a disciplinary chamber for criticizing the government's judicial reforms.

The European Commission says the law "undermines the judicial independence of Polish judges and is incompatible with the primacy of EU law."

"The disciplinary chamber does not discipline judges for the rulings," said Legutko,

"Show me the text of this piece of legislation and the number of the article or paragraph when it says explicitly that the judges will be punished or may be punished for the rulings. It's not there."

On public confidence in Poland's judiciary, Legutko contested figures that showed a significant drop and said that reforms had been spurred when support had been at an all-time low.

Questions around the judiciary, the MEP went on to say, were an "internal problem" for Poland.

"I'm not interfering with the judiciary system in Germany. There is a lot what I don't like in the judiciary system in Germany, but that's not my problem," he added.

Mateusz Morawiecki on Conflict Zone

Free press

Efforts in Warsaw to "repolonize" the media have also come under fire. Poland's ranking in the World Press Freedom Index has dropped from 18th to 62nd in the last five years.

Polish media "are the most diverse media" in Europe, Legutko told Sarah Kelly, saying there was "more plurality in Polish media than in France, in Germany, in Belgium."

The Law and Justice Party MEP dismissed concerns too over the government's grip on national media.

"The public media in most European countries, if there are public media, are also supportive of the government, which does not mean that they are not objective or they are not impartial. If you look at the media now in Poland, about 70 percent of the media are anti-government and 30 percent are supportive of the government."

Polen Proteste gegen Abtreibungsverbot
Poland has seen huge protest in recent weeks against the tightening of abortion lawsImage: Kacper Pempel/REUTERS

Going it alone?

Kelly asked the Polish MEP if he was concerned his government was leading the country on a path of isolation, but Legutko's concern was for the European Union, he said.

The EU "is suffering from a serious disease, probably a deadly disease, which is called 'tyranny of the majority'" and "trying to impose some kind of new despotism."

"I'm very concerned about it."