Thousands of protesters gathered in Warsaw, Poland, last weekend, days after the Polish government, controlled by the right-wing Law and Justice Party, moved to take more control of public television and radio.
That came after a similarly controversial decision regarding the appointment of judges to the nation’s constitutional court.
The ruling party appointed five judges — directly violating previous court decisions — and made changes to the court’s rules that further limit its abilities, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Those choices led to the European Union opening an unprecedented inquiry Wednesday into whether the Polish government has violated the group of nation’s democratic standards.
It is the first time the EU has launched an investigation based on its “Rule of Law” framework, and a decision to suspended Poland’s voting rights in the governing body could be reached, Reuters reported.
The Polish government, which was elected in October, claimed it had to make the appointments because the court was filled with political opponents. And it said it needed to take control of public media because journalists were unfair, according to The Journal. However, Politico reported that sanctions are highly unlikely.
“We have to have friendly and good relations with Poland,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said recently, according to Politico. “Poland is an important and a full member of the EU. We are at the beginning of the procedure. Now we are in discussion with Poland and I don’t want to speculate about further consequences. I don’t think we will come to that point.”
Frans Timmermans, the commission’s deputy head, wrote to the Polish justice minister Wednesday that his commission doesn’t want to question the choices made by the Polish people through their voting in of the right-wing party, Reuters reported.
“However, the European Union is founded on a common set of values … which include in particular the respect for the rule of law,” he wrote. “There can be no democracy and respect for fundamental rights without respect for the rule of law.”
The Law and Justice party downplayed the inquiry, with Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski saying, “We are ready for dialogue,” according Reuters.
Polish responses to the commission’s questioning would be reviewed by mid-March, followed by a decision to press on with any further action, Reuters reported.
“Binding rules were not respected. This is a serious matter in a rule-of-law-dominated state. We have to clarify the situation and start a dialogue,” Timmermans said in a news conference.
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, who will appear in Brussels to defend her government’s actions, said her country has been wrongly accused of violations.
“It’s not true. It’s slander. Democracy in Poland is doing well,” she said, according to The Journal. “The best proof that democracy is doing well are protests organised by some groups against the government and the changes we’re introducing.”
She said Thursday she doesn’t think sanctions will be imposed, but she did admit the party could’ve gone about some of the changes in a different way.
“I am not saying that we made no mistakes,” Szydlo told TVN24.
The driving force behind those changes in Poland isn’t Szydlo or the new president, Andrzej Duda, but the head of the Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski. The head of the ruling party is arguably the most powerful position in the Polish government, according to The New York Times.
“No pressure and hollering, no words…will turn us from this path,”Kaczynski
told supporters on Sunday, the Times reported. “We will continue moving forward.”
Many in Poland fear that the tightening of the grip on society will continue past these recent moves. Private media companies in Poland feel they might be next to have their press freedom stripped, according to Vice News.
“We believe that culture should be free,” Katarzyna Janowska, who recently resigned as head of the public television channel covering Polish culture, told the Times. “They believe that culture should be used to promote something. But you can’t discuss it with them because you live in two different countries, in two different realities.”
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