Poland’s foreign minister denied Wednesday (9 August) accusations that his EU country is drifting towards authoritarianism amid a string of government reforms that have triggered mass protests at home and EU warnings about rule of law violations.
“We are still a democratic country,” Witold Waszczyskowski told the BBC when grilled over recent court reforms that critics insist erode judicial independence and threaten democratic standards in one of the EU’s leading eastern former communist states.
The European Commission last month warned Warsaw it was ready to launch an unprecedented procedure to strip Poland of its EU voting rights over the court reforms for alleged rule of law violations.
Accusations of “authoritarianism are wrong”, Waszczykowski said, insisting that the “Commission is wrongly evaluating” the legislative actions of Poland’s populist right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government.
He insisted that Warsaw was “patiently trying to discuss and inform the commission” about its legislative moves.
“We just want to stay on a democratic course…all democratic institutions are preserved,” Waszczykowski said.
European Council President Donald Tusk, a liberal and PiS arch-rival who served as Polish premier from 2007-14, recently warned that “Poland’s future in Europe is today being called into question” by the PiS’s legislative moves.
But Waszczykowski told the BBC there was “no legal reason for the commission to act and interfere… because there is no final solution proposed.”
The PiS took office in 2015 after eight years in the opposition and promptly began introducing changes in areas like the judiciary, the media and state-owned enterprises that critics have called bids to consolidate power.
Powerful PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski insists the changes are designed to “de-communise” state institutions that he argues were inadequately reformed after Poland peacefully shed communism in 1989.
Poles who see the PiS moves as a power grab have staged a series of mass protests.
Waszczykowski dismissed the demonstrations, insisting that “millions of Poles didn’t protest and our party and our government is supported by almost 30% of the population…we have a clear mandate.”
He also waved off allegations that the PiS has monopolised public radio and television.
“Public TV and radio, it belongs to the state. We just use our prerogative as a state to nominate the chief of these institutions,” Waszczykowski told the BBC.
The PiS government has also drawn ire over its refusal to obey an injunction issued by the European Court of Justice, the EU’s top court, to halt logging in the Bialowieza forest, Europe’s last primeval woodland.
The EU warned Poland to obey the logging ban, saying it would add any breach to a broader Brussels case against Warsaw over democratic standards.
Tusk dubbed the PiS government’s decision to ignore the injunction “very dangerous…a prelude to announcing that Poland doesn’t need the EU and the EU doesn’t need Poland.”