Newly elected Prime Minister Donald Tusk has been busy purging Polish media of those who oppose him – and suddenly the EU is quite relaxed about law-bending in Warsaw. Carson Becker writes about the scandal in the Spectator. Here’s an excerpt.
On the morning of December 20th, riot officers armed with pistols and batons surrounded the headquarters of TVP, Poland’s state broadcaster. Metal barricades were erected, staff vehicles were searched and multiple TV channels were taken off the air. Journalists were locked out of their offices while private security forces in plain clothes attempted to coerce managers into signing letters of resignation.
Leading the purge was Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz (great-grandson of Nobel laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz), now the Culture Minister. Despite his literary pedigree, Sienkiewicz is not an obvious choice for the role. He’s a former intelligence colonel who co-ordinated the secret services during Tusk’s first premiership. The evening before the raid, the Sejm – the lower house of Poland’s parliament – passed a non-binding resolution asking the Government to clean up the public media and restore “constitutional order”. Sienkiewicz sent in the troops, without the clear legal authority to do so.
The election did not dislodge Andrzej Duda, Poland’s President, an independent closely aligned with PiS, whose term ends next year. A former lawyer, it’s his job to protect the constitution and wield the veto in certain circumstances. For example, he has said he will veto a spending bill over his concerns about the media crackdown, calling it “a blatant violation of the constitution and the principles of a democratic state of law”. Sienkiewicz responded by announcing that he would liquidate the entire network. The same day, TVP World, the English-language news channel, announced that its operations had been suspended. Several high-ranking employees including Filip Styczynski, TVP World’s director, were relieved of their duties, but not sacked. Legally, editors and directors can only be fired by the National Media Council, which was set up by PiS in 2016 and is protected by the powers of the president. Tusk and his three-party coalition Government are trying to circumvent the council, whose term of office runs until 2028.
Yet not a word now comes from the EU Commission, formerly often warning PiS that it “will not hesitate to take action in case of non-compliance with EU law”. Even the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, no fan of PiS, has said the Government’s takeover of public media “raises serious legal doubts” and may violate Council of Europe standards. But the EU has said nothing.
Anyone would think that, to the EU, the rule of law just means “doing things our way”.