Wednesday

14th Apr 2021

Poland invokes Nazi crimes in EU rule-of-law dispute

  • Ziobro: 'I am the grandson of a Polish officer who fought ... against German supervision' (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The Polish justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, on Saturday (9 January) invoked Nazi-era crimes in his rebuke to Germany’s EU commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, as the rule-of-law dispute turns increasingly ugly.

“You [Oettinger] demanded that Poland be placed under ‘supervision’. Such words, spoken by a German politician, have the worst possible connotations for Poles,” Ziobro wrote in an open letter, cited by the Polish presss agency, PAP.

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  • 'They want to supervise Poland once again' (Photo: wprost.pl)

“For me, too. I am the grandson of a Polish officer who, during World War II, fought in [Poland’s] underground Home Army against ‘German supervision’.”

Ziobro described Oettinger’s remarks - made last weekend, by reference to an EU supervisory mechanism - as “silly.”

He also accused Berlin of media “censorship” in trying to “hush up” the New Year’s Eve sex assaults.

For his part, the Polish foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, has summoned the German ambassador to Poland for a formal complaint on Monday.

Ugly

Wprost, a Polish weekly, on the cover of its new edition, showed a picture of German leader Angela Merkel, the German head of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, Oettinger, and other EU personalities in Nazi uniforms with the slogan: “They want to supervise Poland once again.”

The insults come in an important week for Polish-EU relations.

On Tuesday, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal will issue a verdict on the legality of recent reforms by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

It will do so using the pre-reform composition of judges. But PiS says it won’t recognise the verdict or publish it in the official gazette, auguring a protracted legal stalemate.

On Wednesday, the college of commissioners in Brussels will debate the Polish situation. Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker has said he doesn’t want to “overdramatise” things. But the debate itself marks the first step of Oettinger’s supervisory mechanism.

Meanwhile, German politicians are using equally provocative language.

Schulz told the FAZ daily this weekend that PiS is guilty of a "dangerous Putinisation of European politics,” by reference to Russia’s authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin.

Volker Kauder, the parliamentary group chief of the ruling CDU/CSU parties, told Der Spiegel that Poland should face EU financial sanctions.

“If the violation of European values is confirmed, EU member states must be brave enough to reach for the sanctions option,” he said.

Media changes

The constitutional crisis aside, PiS is also pressing ahead with a controversial media shake-up.

In the first phase, it sacked directors of state TV and radio and began replacing them with loyalists.

One appointment - Jacek Kurski, the new head of the TVP broadcaster - is a PiS hardliner who, in a 2005 election campaign, disseminated false claims that the grandfather of Donald Tusk, the now EU Council president, volunteered to join the Nazi army.

Kurski’s arrival coincided with anti-PiS protests on Saturday in Warsaw.

The rally attracted 10,000 to 20,000 people. But TVP staff, who spoke anonymously to the Gazeta Wyborcza daily, say they were told to make it look smaller, for instance, by using wide-angle aerial shots.

A second media bill, to be shortly introduced, will see all journalists, editors, and producers at TVP, Polish Radio, PAP, and 17 local channels lose their jobs.

They will then be vetted and, maybe, re-hired, with the vetting process to include consideration of “objective” coverage of the Smolensk air disaster in 2010, which PiS says was a Russian plot.

Thin end of wedge?

Polish private media fear the crackdown won’t end there, however.

A contact at Gazeta Wyborcza told EUobserver the paper expects PiS to pull advertising contracts linked to state enterprises, to put pressure on foreign firms in Poland to also pull adverts from government-critical media, and to introduce laws limiting foreign ownership of Polish press companies.

The European Parliament will debate the situation next week, 19 January, in Strasbourg.

But Konrad Szymanski, the Polish junior minister for EU affairs and a former MEP, has said there’s no reason for Polish ministers to attend.

What does EU scrutiny of Poland mean?

The EU Commission will discuss on Wednesday the state of play in Poland, and might launch a monitoring procedure against Warsaw. But what does this procedure mean, and does it matter?

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