23rd Jan 2018

Polish leader set for Brussels charm trip

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso is preparing for a tricky post-summer break meeting this week with Poland's prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose twin brother and Polish president Lech Kaczynski recently caused a stir in Brussels with a plea to reinstate the death penalty.

The Brussels trip on Wednesday (30 August) is the first since Jaroslaw Kaczynski took over as prime minister in July, leading a government led by the socially conservative Law and Justice Party which is seen as maintaining cool and distrustful ties with Brussels.

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  • Warsaw - seen as "EU-wary" by former top officials (Photo: European Commission)

In a row highlighting the problematic relationship, the European Commission earlier this month rebuffed a call by Lech Kaczynski for an EU-wide debate on reinstating the death penalty. "The death penalty is not compatible with European values," a commission spokesman said.

Jaroslaw Kazcynski in July expressed general uneasiness with EU values, stating in his inaugural speech "In the EU, we have to maintain our ability to take our own decisions...We will strive for Poland to keep its sovereignty in the area of culture and customs."

"EU laws do not and should not cover this area. We are different in our traditions, and there is no point in hiding it, from many other countries," he added.

Warsaw's ruling coalition, composed of two junior coalition parties which campaigned against Polish EU membership in 2004, is also said to be driving away pro-EU diplomats from key posts - a claim officially denied by Polish diplomats.

The recently resigned former director of EU affairs in the Polish foreign ministry, Pawel Swieboda, qualified the Kaczynski regime to EUobserver as "EU-wary."

Polish media report that Mr Kaczynski has cancelled a planned Wednesday address to the Brussels-based European Policy Centre, officially due to scheduling problems, but unofficially to avoid tough questions in public, from Brussels experts and journalists.

However, the Polish leader's EU trip is seen as a charm offensive to repair some of the damage caused, amid more positive signs from Warsaw on its interest in a new EU treaty, heavily pushed for by the commission.

The prime minister said in his July speech "The key feature of our policy is membership in the European Union. We want to be in the EU and, I stress this, to take part in everything that can lead to breaking today's EU crisis. This means finding a new [legal] foundation."

Borrell meeting

Also on Mr Kaczynski's Brussels agenda is a meeting with European Parliament president Josep Borrell, which could prove equally thorny.

Centre-left and liberal MEPs are highly critical about the Kaczynski government's hostile attitude towards gay rights as well as the alleged xenophobic character of one of its coalition parties, the League of Polish Families.

The European Parliament said in a June resolution that the League's leaders "incite people to hatred and violence."

This summer has also seen increasingly frosty relations between Poland and fellow EU member state Germany, which heavily backed Polish accession to the bloc in 2004.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski this month criticised the opening of a new exhibition on the fate of the millions of Germans expelled after the second world war.

He said the transferral of Germans after the war was "sad, even tragic" but added that it should be remembered "who was the perpetrator and who was the victim."

Warsaw has also clashed with Berlin over a planned direct gas pipeline between Germany and Russia, which Polish politicians claims deliberately circumvents Poland.

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