EU prepares to debate whether Poland is violating regulations by enacting sweeping reforms

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The European Union will open a debate next week over whether Poland's new government is violating the bloc's regulations by enacting sweeping reforms to the country's institutions, including the media.

The conservative Law and Justice party took office in November and quickly embarked on a campaign of making major changes to legislation, leading to condemnation from the opposition and some EU leaders. The reforms have included changes to the nation's highest court, police, and, most recently, proposed amendments to regulations on state broadcasters.

The concern in Brussels is so high that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker set the issue on the Jan. 13 agenda of his executive commission. The country, which joined the EU in 2004, could potentially lose its EU voting rights on matters that concern the entire 28-nation bloc.

The situation reached a crescendo last week when Poland's parliament approved legislation by the Law and Justice party that ends the terms of the current heads of state-run radio and television, who were appointed by the previous, pro-EU establishment.

The new law also gives the government the authority to make new appointments and cuts down the number of members in the supervisory bodies of state broadcasters. Before the change, a special council appointed the heads of state broadcasters, just as is the case in some other countries in the region, including the Czech Republic.

It is expected that President Andrzej Duda, who is aligned with the ruling party, will sign the new law soon.

The authors of the legislation argue that under the previous government state media were the voice of only one political option and "presented ideologies and social fashions that are not supported by the majority of voters." The opposition and some leaders in the European Union say that the new law violates media independence.

Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said Monday that these comments were made without a proper knowledge of the situation.

He was reacting in particular to EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger's call for Poland to be put under a monitoring mechanism, which could eventually lead to the suspension of Poland's voting rights in the EU.

"There are many reasons to activate the mechanisms of rule of law and monitor Warsaw," Oettinger was quoted as saying by the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung on Sunday.

Waszczykowski said: "I want to say that I am disturbed by the comments of this or that EU commissioner who expresses his concern without properly knowing the situation or the documents. This is not the way to do politics."

Four directors of state TV channels and programs resigned last week in protest of the new law, while state radio was airing the EU and Polish national anthems before news broadcasts over the weekend to stress commitment to EU values.

Other major reforms have included changing legislation to place loyal judges on the Constitutional Tribunal, the nation's highest court. The new government is also pushing for wider investigative powers for police.


Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.