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25th Mar 2019

Juncker and Szydlo speak ahead of Poland debate

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo spoke in a lengthy telephone call on Tuesday (12 January) evening, ahead of a discussion among EU commissioners on controversial recent laws on Poland's constitutional tribunal and state media.

The 45-minute conversation is seen as an attempt to calm tensions between the EU executive and Warsaw following an exchange of letters in which the commission warned that Poland could be in breach of EU principles.

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  • Conchita Wurst: The PiS government is not a big fan of Eurovision anyway (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

On Wednesday, deputy foreign minister Konrad Szymanski will brief members of the European Parliament, which is due to debate Poland's latest moves next week, Reuters reports.

Szydlo is expected to take part in next week’s debate.

Meanwhile, the 28-member commission will hold a discussion on Wednesday (13 January) on recent events in Poland, where critics say the new government of the Law and Justice (PiS) party appointed friendly judges to the constitutional tribunal and put state media under tighter government control.

The commission could decide to put Poland under a monitoring procedure, but will probably engage in more correspondence with Warsaw before deciding on measures.

Juncker last week said EU leaders are “not bashing Poland.”

EU diplomats warn that pressure from Brussels could be politically counterproductive, fuelling nationalist and eurosceptic forces in Poland.

One Polish politician who is feeling the heat is European Council president Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister.

Tusk, meeting with Socialist MEPs on Tuesday, said the EP should avoid taking action that would hurt Polish citizens.

"The overwhelming majority of Poles are still pro-European, much more than in many other countries, and ready to defend the foundations of democracy. They need your support but it must be adequate to the situation," Tusk said.

He added, referring to PiS cief Jaroslaw Kaczynski: “I hope that your words and your actions will help to mitigate the behaviour of Kaczynski`s party.”

“But at the same time, in no way should they negatively affect my country and of course Polish citizens.”

Before moving to Brussels, Tusk served as Polish PM on behalf of the centre-right Civic Platform party and became Kaczynski’s nemesis.

“To most politicians representing the new power [in Warsaw] I am Public Enemy number 1. Not only because I am in Brussels,” Tusk said, according to Reuters..

Eurovision concern

Poland’s controversial media law could also put the country’s participation at this year’s Eurovision song contest in jeopardy.

The contest is run by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), an alliance of public service media groups in Europe, which, in a critical letter in December voiced “dismay” at the media crackdown.

“To preserve the integrity and independence of public service media as a symbol of a free and democratic country, we ask you in the strongest possible terms not to sign this measure into law,” Ingrid Deltenre, the EBU director general, said at the time.

The contest is due in May.

But the new Polish powers might not be Eurovision fans anyhow.

Jacek Kurski, the new PiS chief of Polish state TV, back in 2014 said Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst, who won the competition that year, represents an act of "cultural aggression by the West.”

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?

Stakeholder

What is really happening in Poland?

Poland is a stable, democratic member state of the European Union, respecting European values, while shaping its internal legal order in a sovereign manner, in accordance with the democratically expressed will of its people.

EU commission puts Poland on the hook

The EU commission has triggered rule-of-law monitoring of Poland, in an unprecedented step, prompted by constitutional and media reforms. The move follows a nasty exchange of letters.

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