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Warsaw challenges criticism from Germany

January 10, 2016

Warsaw has requested the German ambassador come to the foreign ministry for a meeting on Monday. The move comes after Poland's justice minister dismissed EU backlash over what critics call a crackdown on press freedom.

Rolf Wilhelm Nikel - deutscher Botschafter in Polen
German Ambassador to Poland Rolf Wilhelm NikelImage: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Burgi

Germany's ambassador to Warsaw is set to meet with Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski on Monday, as a row between the two countries concerning the new Polish government's policies continued to deepen.

A statement from the foreign ministry referenced "anti-Polish remarks by German politicians" after multiple politicians had questioned legislation supported by Poland's right-wing government.

But the spokesman for the German embassy in Warsaw, Lukas Wasielewski, played down the meeting, saying it did not represent a formal diplomatic summons. Instead he said he expects "a conversation among partners."

'Silly comments' on Poland

As Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz took to television on Sunday to criticize Germany for trying to "instruct others about democracy and freedom," his compatriot, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, issued a confrontational letter to European Union Commissioner Günther Oettinger.

In the statement published by state news agency PAP on Saturday, Ziobro called the German politician "silly" and alluded to the Nazi occupation of Poland.

Oettinger recently gave a newspaper interview in which he suggested Poland be put under the EU's rule of law supervision over new legislation that would give Warsaw complete control over the leadership of state-run broadcasters.

"I am not in the habit of replying to silly comments on Poland made by foreign politicians," Ziobro wrote in the open letter.

"Such words, said by a German politician, cause the worst of connotations among Poles. Also in me. I'm a grandson of a Polish officer, who during World War II fought in the underground National Army with 'German supervision'," he said.

Warsaw-Brussels breakdown

Relations between the EU and Poland have also deteriorated since Ziobro's Law and Justice Party (PiS) won the general election in October on a nationalistic, Euroskeptic platform.

The passage of the new media law was assured by the PiS-controlled legislature, prompting tens of thousands of Poles to take to the streets in at least 20 cities in protest on Saturday.

Ziobro, however, said he does not see any threats to press freedom in the new laws, which will allow the administration sole responsibility for appointing heads of public media outlets. The justice minister complained that he sees only German hypocrisy.

"I came to a sad conclusion that it is easier for you to talk about fictitious threats to media freedom in other countries than to condemn censorship in your homeland," Ziobro continued.

Brussels and Berlin declined to comment immediately on the letter, but the EU representative to Warsaw has been invited to a sit-down in the foreign ministry over the matter.

A debate over whether or not to sanction Poland for its breach of democratic principles is scheduled at the EU-level for later in January.

es/gsw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)