EU spends ‘so much time’ on Poland despite its own problems – Poland’s PM to MEPs

Poland's Prime Minister Beata Szydlo © Kacper Pempel
The Polish Prime Minister has scolded the EU for wasting “so much time” on monitoring Warsaw’s internal issues while having other problems to address as MEPs debate the rule of law in Poland following changes to its constitutional court and media laws.

"I must say I do not see the need to devote so much time to Poland ... I think you have many important issues to address," Beata Szydlo told Members of the European Parliament on Tuesday while rejecting the EU’s harsh criticism of her government’s policies.

She said the debate in the European Parliament had been “totally out of place”, although she would “present the arguments”. 

Poland fell under the European Commission’s scrutiny soon after adopting new legislation concerning the country’s constitutional court and media.

Decrying the moves as a violation of the EU’s core democratic principles, the commission launched a “rule of law” investigation into Poland’s controversial laws. The probe could potentially lead to Poland’s suspension from the EU’s Council of Ministers.

On Tuesday, the EU Parliament held a plenary session for over three hours debating the situation in Poland in the presence of Szydlo.

Leftist and liberal MEPs claimed that Szydlo’s government put the public broadcaster under its direct control and limited the powers of the constitutional court.

“What alarms us is to use or abuse [your] majority to dismantle the checks and balances in the country,” said Belgium’s Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberal group in the European Parliament. He added that the government was entitled to reshape “the media landscape and reform the civil service”, “but not if you use or abuse this huge majority to dismantle checks and balances in your country.”

“This contradicts the constitution and was not announced in your party manifesto,” he added.

However, Poland’s Prime Minister rejected the accusations, claiming “the rule of law, human rights are not being breached in Poland.”

“The changes carried out by our government are in accordance with EU treaties,” she insisted, stressing that “Poland is a democratic country” that “does not need to be monitored.”

She argued that the dispute about the constitutional court was political, rather than legal. 

“It is an internal matter and Poland should solve it on its own,” she said.

Prime Minister Szydlo emphasized the importance of Europe to Poland, but also called for her country’s sovereignty on internal matters to be respected.

“We are part of the united Europe,” she said. “We want to feel that Poland is a free and sovereign member state that can always count on the EU’s support, and that internal matters and its sovereignty are respected.”

During the debate, Szydlo confronted calls to say whether she was ready to backtrack on the laws if the Commission’s concerns were endorsed, saying that Poland would “continue our program because that is what the electorate expects from us.”

However, she also vowed to continue dialogue with the commission.

At home, supporters of Szydlo’s right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) gathered outside the European Commission office in Warsaw to protest the EU’s intervention in domestic affairs.

Following the election victory of the right-wing Law and Justice party in October, Poland introduced several laws that have been deemed by many to have been aimed at consolidating power and limiting the judicial freedom of its constitutional court, to which the new government also appointed five new judges.