Polish govt tears a strip off EU Parliament head for calling Warsaw crisis a 'coup'

European Parliament President Martin Schulz. © Fabrizio Bensch
EU Parliament chief Martin Schulz is in hot water for comparing the current political situation in Poland to a "coup d'etat." Warsaw is up in arms and demands an apology for what it deems “unfounded, unjustified” comments.

"What is happening in Poland has the characteristics of a coup and is dramatic. I am going on the principle that we are going to discuss this in detail this week at the European Parliament, or at the latest, during the session in January," Schulz told Deutschlandfunk radio on Monday.

The EU Parliament president was referring to the latest developments involving the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), which won a parliamentary majority in late October and is run by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the twin brother of Poland's late president Lech Kaczynski.

The PiS wants to install five judges of its own choosing at the 15-member court, refusing to recognize judges appointed by the previous parliament when the liberal Civic Platform (PO) party was in power. According to the PiS, appointments made by the previous government at the very end of its term allegedly made the court “biased.”

Tens of thousands took to the streets in Warsaw and several other Polish cities last week to reject the conservative government’s meddling, with the Constitutional Tribunal (the highest judicial body) dubbing it “democratorship” and a “creeping coup d'etat.” About 50,000 people joined the march in Warsaw, according to the local authorities.

The demonstrators protested against what they called a government attempt to manipulate and usurp the country's supreme court. Some protesters were also carrying banners calling on Jaroslaw Kaczynski to leave Poland. Others were chanting “Duda must go!” referring to the country’s president, Andrzej Duda.

The opposition accuses the government of seeking to gain control over the judicial body by installing loyal judges to fulfill its own plans to change the constitution.

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo has meanwhile demanded an apology from the EU Parliament president for calling rising political tensions a coup. "This type of comments -- and this is not the first time that President Schulz has used such a tone -- concerning Poland and Polish affairs are unacceptable to me," she stressed.

"I am expecting Mr Martin Schulz to not only stop making such comments, but also to apologize to Poland," she added.

Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski has also lashed out at the high-ranking official, describing his remarks as "unfounded, unjustified and scandalous." Waszczykowski has asked Poland's ambassador to the EU to meet with Schulz over the matter.

"Such a high-ranking politician should be far better informed before making public statements," Waszczykowski said in a statement, according to AP.

"He should at least know that Poland has recently seen a free and democratic election whose results are undisputed, and that now in Poland, as in many other democratic countries, we are simply having a normal political debate about institutional solutions," Waszczykowski said.

It's not the first time Schulz has come under fire for his forthright comments. In mid-November he slammed Poland's anti-migrant government on German television for what he called a lack of “solidarity” in dealing with the refugee crisis.

Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak immediately accused the EU Parliament president of arrogance, and rushed to recall Nazi atrocities in Warsaw.

"Schulz's words are an example of German arrogance," Blaszczak told the TVN24 news channel. "We're talking in Warsaw, which was destroyed by Germans. In [Warsaw's] Wola [district] 50,000 men, women and children were murdered by officers of the German state," he added.