Poland slams European Commission but offers olive branch to domestic opposition | News | DW | 12.01.2016
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Poland slams European Commission but offers olive branch to domestic opposition

The right-wing Polish government is feeling the pressure from within and abroad, but they only have themselves to blame. A pair of laws restricting media and judicial independence have outrage pro-democracy advocates.

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The Polish government lashed out at the European Commission on Tuesday, accusing the EC of putting undue pressure on the right-wing government over rule-of-law issues involving media and justice reforms.

Poland's legal maneuvers have prompted escalating warnings from the EC that it could intervene. The EC's vice president, Frans Timmermans, sent two letters asking Polish authorities for information.

The queries infuriated Poland's Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who said Tuesday he was "astonished" by Timmermans' request, slamming it as "an attempt to exert pressure upon the democratically elected" parliament and government of a sovereign state.

"You had the possibility to receive from me the competent information regarding this issue ... using routine working contacts ... I deplore the fact that you decided not to do so. "Thus, I first found out about your unjustified accusations and unfair conclusions from the media."

Relations between Brussels and Warsaw began to deteriorate shortly after Poland's archly conservative Law and Justice party (PiS), led by the eurosceptic Jaroslaw Kaczynski, returned to power in October after eight years in opposition.

But democracy-minded officials in Brussels are not the only ones troubled by Poland's sharp turn to the right. Tens of thousands of Poles have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest the PiS's legislation giving it control over Poland's top court and public broadcasters.

In an unprecedented move, the EC is set to debate the state of rule-of-law in the EU member state on Wednesday. The talks could lead to punitive measures.

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said she will join President Andrzej Duda, a close ally, at a January 18 debate on the issue in the European Parliament.

"It's clear to me that the prime minister represents the country any time Poland's reputation needs protection," she told reporters in Warsaw.

But the PiS also appears to be feeling the pressure, both from Brussels and from within because Szydlo also said the government was prepared to sit down with the opposition to calm the domestic political conflict, although she didn't give further details.

Szydlo said the government wants to counter "unjustified" opinions about the country abroad, but she did not explain, for instance, how public broadcasters whose editorial directors are to be appointed by a Cabinet minister would ensure editorial independence from government.

EC chief Jean-Claude Juncker denied last week that Brussels was unfairly targeting Poland over its government's controversial changes.

"Let's not overdramatize," he said. "Our approach is very constructive -- we are not bashing Poland."

bik/jil (AFP, AP)

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