Polish premier defends controversial reforms, urges EU not to meddle

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo on Tuesday defended her government's controversial judicial and media reforms, arguing that Brussels is meddling with its investigation into a possible breach by Warsaw of EU values.

Poland's conservative government, which took office in November, has come under fire for several measures that critics say are designed to strengthen its grip on the constitutional court and public broadcasters.

Tensions between Warsaw and its European partners have risen, just when unity is needed within the 28-member EU to address a host of challenges such as the bloc's migration crisis.

The European Commission, the European Union's executive, last week launched an inquiry into the Polish reforms, using an unprecedented mechanism aimed at protecting the bloc's fundamental values.

Szydlo travelled to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Tuesday to defend her government's actions.

"I think Poland does not deserve to be monitored by the European Commission because human rights are not being breached in Poland, the rule of law is not being breached," she said. "Today I have the feeling of injustice that we are the subject of this experiment."

"We are a sovereign state, we are a free nation," she added. "Polish problems have to be discussed and solved in Poland because whenever third parties tried to solve our problems for us, that was disastrous."

Poland is built on "freedom, equality, justice and sovereignty," Szydlo said, adding that her government wanted to build a country that is the "mirror image" of the EU. "For centuries, Poland has believed in the rule of law," Szydlo stressed.

The constitutional court reforms - replacing some of its judges and changing the voting laws - were necessary to remedy unconstitutional decisions by the outgoing government, Szydlo said.

She also justified the media reform, which has given her government a greater say over top appointments to the public television and radio stations, arguing that the aim is to turn them into "truly public broadcasters."

"No legal standards have been breached and the objective is objectivity in reporting," the premier said.

But commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said the reforms appeared to threaten fundamental EU values, adding that the initial replies received from the Polish government "were not sufficient to dispel our concerns."

"Membership in our union does not only entail benefits but also responsibilities," Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told the parliament, citing respect for the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights. His country holds the rotating EU presidency.

These values "cannot be taken for granted," Koenders warned, noting that Europe had brought forth the "most deadly and venomous political doctrines we know," and had since vowed not to return to those dark days.

Timmermans said that the commission had received another letter from Warsaw earlier Tuesday, sent following the launch of its inquiry. The reply would be assessed "in a cooperative and constructive manner," the commissioner added.

"I believe in maintaining a constructive dialogue with the Polish government, because I believe we can solve these issues in conformity with the rules that all members of the EU have adhered to," Timmermans said.

But EU President Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, spoke of a "sad day" after the parliamentary debate.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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