Polish PM defends against ‘Putinisation’ claims in Brussels

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo waves during a debate at the European Parliament. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo waves during a debate at the European Parliament. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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The Polish prime minister has defended her country’s government in the European Parliament as concerns mount in Europe over the state of democracy and rule of law in Poland.

Beata Szydlo was in Brussels to meet senior EU officials and attend a special parliamentary debate on Poland prompted by a contentious law governing the country’s constitutional tribunal – effectively the Polish supreme court – that critics claim could neuter it and remove a key check on the government’s power.

The court law prompted demonstrations in Poland, as has a new media law giving the government the right to hire and fire senior management at public television and radio. The law has met furious opposition, and spawned accusations the government of the conservative Law and Justice party is attempting to suppress the free media.

Last week, the European Commission launched an investigation into whether the media and court laws posed a “systematic threat” to the rule of law in Poland – the first time a member state has come under such scrutiny.

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament from the German centre-left, said events in Poland pointed towards a “dangerous Putinisation of European politics”. But Mrs Szydlo rejected any accusations that freedom was under threat in a country that understood its true price owing to its “difficult history”.

“Freedom, sovereignty, equality and justice are the values at the heart of our development,” she told the parliament.

“Our grandfathers and fathers shed their blood for us to be part of united Europe. For decades we fought for the right to express our opinions and for sovereignty.

“We’ve started making changes to the media in an attempt to restore genuine impartiality to public media,” she continued, referring to alleged bias against Law and Justice. “The introduction of impartiality is the only reason behind these changes.”

She said the furore over changes to the constitution were “political not legal” and that Law and Justice was undoing questionable changes made by the previous government and making the body more democratic.

Away from Brussels, the government has also argued that as it holds a majority it has the right to govern as it see fits and is only implementing a programme that won it commanding election victory.

It has also so far shown no inclination to let the protests divert it from its drive to reform Poland.