Tuesday

26th Mar 2019

New Polish foreign minister tries to charm EU commission

  • Czaputowicz: 'We exchanged mobile phone numbers, exchanged contacts' (Photo: mfa.gov.pl)

Poland is hoping that a new charm offensive with the European Commission can stop sanctions, but without backing down on judicial reform at home.

That was the message sent out by its new foreign minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, after his meeting with commission vice president Frans Timmermans in Brussels on Sunday (21 January).

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"We believe we're right, that the process of judicial reform is taking place in a way that is compatible with European Union standards, that it requires a little time and a little distance," Czaputowicz told Polish TV after the meeting.

"We're looking for what unites us and we're trying to solve the problem together," he added.

He said that his first-ever EU talks, which lasted about one hour and which took place in a lounge at Brussels airport, went "very well".

"We exchanged mobile phone numbers, exchanged contacts … We agreed to hold further consultations at expert level and I invited Frans Timmermans to Warsaw, which he accepted," Czaputowicz said.

He said they also discussed migration.

"Mr Timmermans wanted Poland to engage on border protection issues, which is line with our policies," he added.

Timmermans himself was less forthcoming after Sunday's talks.

"Glad to have met the new Polish FM … We discussed the issue of the rule of law in Poland and I'm looking forward to continuing this dialogue in Warsaw and Brussels", he said on Twitter, in his only remarks.

The commission has accused Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party of trying to seize control of courts and judges.

It has also accused Warsaw of violating an EU decision on sharing the burden of asylum seekers with Greece and Italy.

The judicial complaint could end in unprecedented sanctions on Poland's voting rights in the EU Council, after the commission, in December, gave Warsaw three months to change tack.

The migration row could end in financial penalties.

Polish reshuffle

Czaputowicz, a former academic, took up his post earlier this month after a reshuffle involving Poland's new prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki.

The Polish changes saw the defenestration of former foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski and prime minister Beata Szydlo as well as defence minister Antoni Macierewicz.

Waszczykowski and Szydlo had defended Poland's controversial reforms on the EU stage and had declined to hold meetings with the commission.

Macierewicz had championed theories that EU council chief Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, had colluded with Russia on the Smolensk air disaster in 2010.

The Czaputowicz-Timmermans talks came after Morawiecki, the prime minister, met with commission head Jean-Claude Juncker in December.

It also came after Czaputowicz went to Berlin last week, where he said he hoped for a friendly solution on Poland's claims for World War II-era reparations.

But it remains to be seen whether the new Polish government is willing to fall in line with EU demands, or whether the new faces are just cosmetic changes put in place by PiS party chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Morawiecki, earlier this month, also defended the judicial reforms in a memo handed out to foreign press in Warsaw.

Warsaw memo

The memo, according to Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, said Poland's constitutional court, which has opposed PiS, was full of corrupt, communist-era stooges.

"The highest court entertains communist agents and judges from martial law [times]. The courts have not changed since the times of the PRL, and verdicts are given out for bribes," it said, referring to Poland's communist-era name.

The line chimes with PiS policy to overturn what it calls the "deal" - the 1989 agreement by pro-democracy supporters to take over in return for letting the communist-era elite keep their privileges.

Czaputowicz, on Sunday, also announced that Poland's EU mission is to be run by Andrzej Sados, a career diplomat.

The appointment come after the former ambassador, Jaroslaw Starzyk, resigned last year.

Starzyk cited "personal reasons" for his departure, but Polish media said the real reason was that he had fallen foul of PiS after documents emerged on his collusion with communist authorities at the end of the Cold War.

Opinion

How powerful is Poland's Morawiecki?

The new prime minister of Poland is on a collision course with the EU Commission as well as his party. His debut appearance - and early departure - at last week's summit indicates his future is up in the air.

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Despite fresh crackdowns on Poland's already restrictive abortion laws, EU commission president Juncker did not raise the issue with the new Polish PM Morawiecki - perhaps because it was an all-male event?

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