EU Commission ‘concerned’ about PKN Orlen media takeover, Jourová says

Brussels,,Belgium.,10th,December,2019.,Eu,Commissioner,Vera,Jourova,During

Polish state-owned oil refiner PKN Orlen’s takeover of publisher Polska Press has raised concerns in the European Commission, Vice-President Vera Jourová has told EURACTIV, adding to the protest to the buyout already raised by opposition in Poland.

Her comments come just a day before Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal is to deliver a verdict on whether Ombudsman Adam Bodnar, who opposed the deal approved by Poland’s competition authority (UOKiK), will be able to continue in his role.

Bodnar’s contract came to an end in September and a replacement is yet to be appointed.

The ombudsman had appealed UOKiK’s rubber-stamping of the media takeover and on Monday, Poland’s Court of Competition and Consumer Protection sided with Bodnar, effectively suspending the UOKiK approval of the merger.

For their part, Poland’s ruling conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) say that Bodnar has long used his position to air his opposition to the government.

Meanwhile, developments in Warsaw have caught the attention of the EU executive in Brussels, with Commission Vice-President Jourová saying that the buyout spells a worrying trend for the media landscape in the country.

“The Orlen case raised concerns in the Commission,” Jourová told EURACTIV on Wednesday (14 April).

“Of course we cannot interfere into these ongoing procedures but generally speaking, when these mergers create a bloc that starts to work in the interest of one political party, then it’s a very dangerous situation,” she added.

“That’s why it’s very important that the competition rules are applied in Poland fairly.”

Jourová, who is also responsible for the media portfolio in the EU executive, added that the courts on Monday “had very strong reasons” to issue a suspension on UOKiK’s approval of the merger, based on issues already highlighted by ombudsman Bodnar.

PKN’s takeover of Polska Press, which was completed earlier this year, has attracted criticism from government opponents, who say it demonstrates Law and Justice’s attempts to control the media in Poland, extending a trend of PiS buyouts of media organizations through state-owned entities.

For his part, PKN Chief Executive Daniel Obajtek responded to the decision of Poland’s Court of Competition and Consumer Protection on Monday by calling it ‘irrelevant’, as the merger was already completed in March.

“The court’s decision also does not restrict PKN Orlen from exercising ownership rights from shares in Polska Press,” Obajtek added.

Polska Press currently publishes a range of printed media in Poland, including 20 regional dallies, around 100 local weekly publications, as well as the ‘Naszemiasto.pl’ outlet.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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