Gay-friendly Poland wants more EU clout, prime minister says
Poland's new conservative prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski painted a picture of a tolerant, gay-friendly Poland on his first visit to Brussels, but warned that any new EU constitution must give Warsaw real clout in EU-decision making.
"I ask you not to believe in the myth of Poland as an anti-semitic, homophobic and xenophobic country," he stated to a packed press room on Wednesday (30 August) after a "cordial" 45 minute meeting with European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso.
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"Poland has excellent relations with Israel, I'll be bold to say among the best in Europe," Mr Kaczynski stated, adding "People with such [homosexual] preferences have full rights in Poland, there is no tradition in Poland of persecuting such people."
He admitted that an anti-semitic "fringe" exists in Polish politics but said it is in a process of change, while showcasing the fact Poland has many gay nightclubs and magazines, as well as "people of such a persuasion holding high public positions, on the right and not just on the left."
His defence of Poland in terms of liberal, so-called "European values" comes after months of western media and left-wing politicians' outcries about alleged neo-fascist elements in Mr Kaczynski's coalition partners, the League of Polish Families party, and attacks on gay rights marches in major Polish towns.
Poland's president and Jaroslaw Kaczynski's twin brother, Lech Kaczynski, in July supported bringing back the death penalty, while a string of top diplomats has deserted the new government amid stark warnings that the eurosceptic Kaczynski twins are isolating Warsaw in the EU.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski - widely described as the dominant twin in the pair - wrote off the existing text of the EU constitution as a "matter for history", saying Poland will not submit the document for ratification "because I know it would fail, and I do not want to spoil the atmosphere."
Warsaw plans to present detailed proposals for a new charter to the upcoming German EU presidency early next year, the prime minister explained, predicting that the federalist-sounding text "will probably need to change its name" and warning that Poland will take a tough line on EU voting system reforms.
"We need to have not just the possibility of having our voice heard in European decisions, but to be reckoned with," Mr Kaczynski indicated, with the existing draft charter foreseeing a population-weighting mechanism that would give Germany more power in pushing through new EU laws.
Commission president Barroso gave a cautious reaction to Mr Kaczynski's pledges of goodwill, placing more stress on his trust in pro-EU Polish public opinion than statements by the Polish political elite or media analysts about Warsaw's future relations with Brussels.
"If you look at Polish public opinion, you see support growing," he said, reminiscing on his warm welcome in Gdansk last August. "I don't take decisions based on comments but facts. I believe the facts will confirm the attachment of Poland to the European mission."
He indicated that non-discrimination is a "basic" value of the EU club, while playing to Polish popular opinion by stressing the post-Cold War security dimension of the 25-member bloc and gesturing toward Poland's self-image as a heroic victim of Nazi Germany and Soviet communism.
"Polish people understand the fundamental value of the EU for peace, freedom, democracy and social and economic progress," Mr Barroso said. "The Polish people are a great people that have made a great contribution to the history of Europe."
The commission president took the risk of making a joke at the notoriously prickly Kaczynski twins' expense, however.
"It was my first meeting [with Jaroslaw Kaczynski], although I had the impression I met him before, because I met some months ago the president of the Polish republic," Mr Barroso quipped.
"Of course, the commission has a great deal of respect for Poland," he added quickly.