Poland must not divide Europe

Beata Szydło
Beata Szydło

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło has defended the reform of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal and the new media law before the EU Parliament. Some commentators praise the atmosphere of respect in Strasbourg. Others warn Poland against following in the footsteps of illiberal democracies

 

A democratic highlight in Strasbourg

The EU Parliament’s working year got off to a great start with the debate about Poland’s purported violations of the rule of law, the centre-left daily Der Standard believes:

“The debate in the plenary sitting was an example of how well democracy, parliamentary pluralism and fairness can work when everyone sticks to the rules. … Beata Szydło rejected all accusations, but she did so calmly and objectively, she showed respect for her critics and that she was ready for dialogue. The members of parliament and the commissioners did the same. That has created the right environment for a proper assessment of the situation. Only in this way can one reasonably reach conclusions about whether the accusations are justified. The main thing is that in the end the result is accepted in accordance with the common rules. That is the very purpose of the EU.”

No dialogue without Kaczyński

Poland can hardly be brought into line with institutional discussions at the EU level because these don’t include the man who is behind the government’s policies, the liberal daily Le Soir complains:

“In Poland both the supporters and the opponents of the current government know that it’s not President Duda – who visited Brussels on Monday – or Prime Minister Szydło – who spoke in Strasbourg on Tuesday – who really hold the reins of power, but Jarosław Kaczyński. A simple member of the Sejm, but the head of the all-powerful PiS and the obsessive author of conspiracy theories and an unpublished political programme whose implementation the Poles are observing in astonishment. He doesn’t chair cabinet sessions, he doesn’t sign laws and he doesn’t attend summits where he would meet other European leaders. (Apart from Viktor Orbán, that is, who has just sidestepped Poland’s legitimate leaders and paid him a visit instead.)”

A triumph in the EU Parliament

Szydło delivered an excellent performance in the European Parliament, the national conservative daily Gazeta Polska Codziennie finds:

“This debate was without doubt a success for the Polish government and Polish diplomacy, and above all a personal triumph for the prime minister. She travelled to Strasbourg and presented herself before a crowd of MEPs with a very negative stance vis-à-vis the government and Poland. … Finally she put up more of a fight than they had expected. They levelled accusations at her but otherwise had little to say. The majority of them talked vaguely about ‘values’ that are supposedly under threat. But it was obvious that they themselves didn’t really know what they were talking about.”

Poland must not divide Europe

Hopefully the EU will win out in the contest of wills between Poland and the EU, the liberal daily Irish Examiner writes:

“Despite rising nationalism, a move toward increased integration appears to be in the cards. If Poland opposes that tendency, it will find itself on the outside, overwhelmed by economic forces it cannot control and Russia’s corrosive influence. A new iron curtain in Europe, this time between liberal and illiberal democracies – is a grim prospect. Although Poland is not a regional leader, it does wield influence, owing to its large and healthy economy and its strategic role as a buffer between Russia and Western Europe. … Today, the EU is testing Poland, and Poland is testing the EU. Poland – and Europe – can win only if the EU does.”

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