Poland invites EU official for talks amid concern over new laws

by Reuters
Tuesday, 5 January 2016 14:19 GMT

* Poland invites EU official for talks in foreign ministry

* Brussels says new government may be undermining rule of law

* "Courtesy talk" to clarify situation, foreign minister says

* Rights group calls on president not to sign new media bill (Adds that representative received invitation, will accept.)

WARSAW, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Poland has invited the European Commission's representative in Warsaw to the foreign ministry to discuss European Union concern over laws proposed by the new government that increase its control over Poland's top court and state-owned media, the Polish foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Since winning an election in October, the Law and Justice (PiS) party, which advocates conservative Catholic values and euroscepticism, has moved to put public media under government control and to change the makeup of the constitutional court.

The European Commission said it would hold a "political debate" on the rule of law in Poland on Jan. 13, amid growing concern the government is undermining democracy in the EU's largest eastern member, until recently a poster child for post-communist transformation.

Commissioner Gunther Oettinger, the EU commissioner responsible for the digital economy and society, told Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung on Sunday that Warsaw should be put under the EU's rule of law supervision.

This is a three-step procedure that could end in suspending Poland's voting rights within the 28-nation bloc.

The "courtesy talk" with the EU representative would be aimed at clarifying media speculation, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski told private broadcaster TVN24, and "strange, unclear statements of some European Commissioners, who, based on press reports ... start to judge Poland."

"We want to clarify why the Commissioners are not using the official channels of communication with the Polish government, but (instead) give weekend interviews to the German press."

Waszczykowski said he hoped the meeting with the EU official would take place on Friday. A spokesman for the European Commission's representative in Poland told Reuters the invitation had been received and would be accepted.

Separately, the Council of Europe, a 47-nation human rights group that works closely with the European Union, on Tuesday called on the Polish president not sign into law the new media bill.

"I call on the President of the Republic of Poland not to sign the law ... and to uphold the independence of Poland's public-service television and radio," said the Council of Europe's top human rights official, Nils Muiznieks.

"These arrangements contradict Council of Europe standards which notably require that public-service media remain independent of political or economic interference," he said. (Reporting by Wiktor Szary, additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels, editing by Larry King)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.