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31st Jul 2016

Juncker: ‘We’re not bashing Poland’

  • Juncker in Amsterdam: 'Let’s not overdramatise' (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has indicated he will avoid confrontation with Poland over its constitutional and media shake-up.

“Let’s not overdramatise. It’s an important issue. But we have to have friendly and good relations with Poland. Our approach is very constructive - We’re not bashing Poland,” he told press in Amsterdam on Thursday (7 January), at an event to mark the launch of the Dutch EU presidency.

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He noted Poland already agreed to one commission request - to seek an opinion from the Venice Commission, a constitutional panel in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

Juncker spoke ahead of a commission debate, next week, on the Polish situation.

The debate itself marks the first step of a special rule-of-law monitoring process created in 2014.

But Juncker added there is little prospect of invoking article 7 of the EU treaty - suspension of Council voting rights for egregious violations of EU norms.

“I don’t think it’ll come to that,” he said, adding he’s “very confident” the Polish government will properly clarify its intentions.

Frans Timmermans, the Dutch EU commissioner, has written two letters to Warsaw asking for details.

He said, also in Amsterdam, that: “We’re quietly awaiting their response, as we haven't received it yet.”

He added that one of the EU’s biggest achievements is helping former Communist “dictatorships” in eastern Europe to become “fully fledged democracies."

“It is only just that the commission will take this up [rule-of-law monitoring] with every member state,” he said.

Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, also downplayed prospects of article 7.

He referred to the measure as being “almost nuclear, politically.” He said in the past the EU had the choice either to do nothing or to invoke the article.

But he said it’s “a good thing” the new monitoring process, composed of commission debates and exchange of information with capitals, exists as a third way.

Bert Koenders, the Dutch foreign minister, noted that he phoned his Polish counterpart, Witold Waszczykowski, on Wednesday. “We need to have dialogue. It’s important to handle this in a non-confrontational way,” he said.

The controversy arose after the new Polish government, in recent days, adopted a law curtailing the Constitutional Tribunal’s ability to vet legislation and giving its treasury minister the right to fire the chiefs of state TV and radio broadcasters.

The Polish president, Andrzej Duda, signed the media law in Warsaw on Thursday as Juncker spoke.

The moves have prompted an outcry from European media watchdogs and Polish civil society.

The concern is that the ruling Law and Justice party, dominated by party chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski, will abuse the changes to extend political control on courts and media.

The Committe for the Protection of Democracy, a protest group, plans to hold pro-free media rallies in 12 cities on Saturday, including in Warsaw, Poznan, Krakow, Wroclaw, and Katowice.

For his part, Kaczynski on Wednesday met with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, who pushed through similar changes at home despite EU criticism. There was no press conference, but German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung speculated that Orban told Kaczynski the EU “barks but doesn’t bite.”

Waszczykowski, speaking on Polish TV on Thursday morning, praised the Hungarian leader.

“It’s been falsely said we want to copy all the Hungarian solutions in Poland. That’s not possible. But those solutions are a model for us, on how to do such things,” he said.

He added that Orban won a “spectacular victory.”

“Hungary came out of a deep political and economic crisis - that’s why some of its solutions should be adopted.”

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