Weekly Round-Up of Polish News Developments
Given her history it should come as no surprise that Poland is a country which takes its defence and national sovereignty seriously. This week the government announced the purchase of 250 of the most modern tanks from the U.S. in a move it said very directly was aimed at deterring any threat of Russian aggression. Of course, threats to national sovereignty, whether real or perceived, do not come just in a military form. The ongoing legal battle between Poland and the European Court of Justice is ultimately over the question of the primacy of the Polish constitution or European Union law in purely national questions. On Wednesday afternoon, in a remarkable coincidence of timing, contradictory rulings were issued by the European Court of Justice and Poland’s own Constitutional Tribunal.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
• Poland announces the purchase of 250 U.S. Abrams tanks in a major military modernisation move aimed at deterring Russia
• the European Court of Justice orders the interim suspension of the work of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, but Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal rejects the principle of ‘interim measures’
• there’s continuing controversy over the proposed new law to further restrict foreign media ownership, and
• Polish tennis star Hubert Hurkacz reaches a career high world ranking of 11th following his Wimbledon exploits.
On Wednesday Poland announced that it has agreed to purchase 250 of the most modern U.S. M1A2 Abrams tanks in a move to boost its defence capability against potential Russian aggression. The tanks will replace aging Russian supplied T-72s as well as later PT-91s. Announcing the move Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said that the purchase was due to international security challenges facing Poland and would act as a deterrent. He said that ‘We all know where this aggressor is and what threats are possible’.
The cost of the acquisition, including training, logistics and ammunition, is estimated at 23.3 billion złotych. It was announced at a press conference at the 1st Warszawa Armoured Brigade by Błaszczak and Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński, who heads the cabinet committee on security. Kaczyński said that ‘Our principle is that whoever wants peace must prepare for war’.
Poland has undertaken a large-scale military modernisation programme in recent years. This has included the purchase of several big-ticket weapons systems from the U.S. including 32 Lockheed Martin F-35s jet fighters, the contract for which was signed last year.
ECJ Ruling on Disciplinary Chamber of Supreme Court
Also on Wednesday, in a decision on an application for interim measures by the European Commission, the European Court of Justice ordered Poland to immediately suspend the application of the powers of the controversial Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court. It’s the latest ruling in the long running conflict between the Polish government and the European Union institutions over the so-called ‘rule of law’ question in Poland.
The ruling states that quote ‘Poland is obliged to immediately suspend the application of domestic provisions relating, in particular, to the powers of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court’. The European Court judge making the statement granting the Commission’s request for interim measures, wrote that ‘it cannot be ruled out that the Polish provisions, challenged by the Commission in the substantive action, infringe the requirements of EU law’.
Constitutional Tribunal Says ‘Interim Measures’ Inconsistent with Constitution
However, in another court ruling that very same afternoon Poland’s own Constitutional Tribunal said that such rulings are in conflict with the Polish constitution, meaning that this latest one is also likely to be ignored. The tribunal found that ‘the provisions of the EU treaties are inconsistent with the constitution to the extent that they oblige Poland to implement interim measures relating to the judiciary’. The tribunal is later expected to rule on the fundamental question of whether the Polish constitution supersedes European Union law in a case brought by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki himself.
Move to Further Restrict Foreign Media Ownership
There’s been continuing reaction to last Thursday’s filing of a draft law on foreign media ownership by Prawo i Sprawiedliwość Sejm members that’s viewed as directed at private broadcaster TVN, which is owned by Discovery Inc. of the U.S. The bill, which may struggle to win parliamentary passage, would restrict foreign media ownership from a country outside the European Economic Area to 49%.
However, a junior partner in the ruling coalition Porozumienie said it wouldn’t support the bill in its current format. The party wants the envisaged geographical area widened to the membership of the OECD, which of course includes the U.S. A party spokesperson said that ‘This will rule out the possibility of Russia, China and Arab countries taking over the media. However, the amendments will not hit our ally, the United States, against which we do not need to defend ourselves and with whom we want to continue to build friendly relations’.
Move Viewed As Directed at TVN
TVN’s U.S. parent, Discovery, the U.S. embassy in Warszawa and the European Commission have all expressed concern at the proposed new law. Some observers speculate that if Discovery is forced to divest part or all of its ownership of TVN ,shares could be purchased by Polish state-owned companies, potentially threatening media diversity in the country. Supporters of the measure argue that several other European countries already have similar restrictions on foreign media ownership, and that it does not specifically target TVN.
TVN’s editorial line is widely seen as hostile to the current Polish government. The broadcasting licence of their flagship news station TVN24, which is due to expire in September, still hasn’t been renewed by the Krajowa Rada Radiofonii i Telewizji (or National Broadcasting Council).
Sejm Approves Opposition Proposed Candidate for Human Rights Commissioner
There looks finally to be a breakthrough in the parliamentary deadlock over the appointment of the new Polish Human Rights Commissioner, to replace the controversial Adam Bodnar. Last Thursday the Sejm overwhelmingly approved the latest opposition-proposed candidate, Marcin Wiącek, who becomes the sixth nominee for the position.
He’s the head of the human rights department in the law faculty at the University of Warszawa. In the past Wiącek has worked for a former PSL minister, as well as provided legal opinions for Deputy Prime Minister and Porozumienie leader Jarsoław Gowin. His nomination next goes to the opposition-controlled Senate, where previous Prawo i Sprawiedliwość-backed nominees approved by the Sejm, were rejected.
Kaczyński: Poland Could Be Net Contribuor to EU This Decade
Speaking at a party event in the northern town of Rypen last Sunday Prawo i Sprawiedliwość leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, said that the successful implementation of the policies in the Polski Ład could turn Poland into a net contributor to the European Union budget by the end of the decade. At the start of a nationwide tour to promote the plan, he claimed that ‘This civilisational change will have an impact on the whole of Poland, on all social groups and all regions’.
The Deputy Prime Minister and ruling party leader claimed that ‘Becoming a country that pays more into the common budget than it receives will mean Poland joining the club of the strongest and most affluent nations’. He added that ‘We will be able to achieve this by implementing the Polski Ład during the next 10 years or so. This will be a great moment in our history, marking the first time Poland’s average level of economic development becomes the same as in the West of the EU’.
80th Anniversary of Jedwabne Massacre
Last Sunday a commemorative event was held in north eastern Poland to mark the 80th anniversary of a tragic and still controversial episode in the country’s history. The 1941 Jedwabne massacre of Polish Jews that claimed at least 340 lives, many of them burned in a barn, was blamed on ethnic local Poles, albeit various subsequent investigations emphasised that it was in the context of encouragement by the then Nazi German occupiers, who bore ultimate responsibility.
Locals who continue to reject Polish responsibility for the pogrom boycotted the ceremony, which was attended by state and religious leaders, as well as diplomats from Germany, Israel, and the U.S. A small group protested including one local resident who said that while he ‘does not deny that there were a few Poles’ involved, ‘all of them were directed by the German gendarmes’.
Ambassador Sochanska Highlights Polish Role in Saving Jews During Holocaust
The question of Poland and the Holocaust has featured once again in an exchange of letters in The Irish Times involving the Polish Ambassador to Ireland Anna Sochanska. In a reply to an earlier letter, which the Ambassador said contained ‘particular statements mocking the Polish’ she wrote that ‘There is nothing mythical about Poles saving Jews from the Holocaust’ citing in support statements by the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.
Ambassador Sochanska added that ‘Poland, as the first victim of Nazi Germany, stood firm against denial and minimisation of the crimes of the Holocaust. Moreover, during the Second World War the Polish government-in-exile (first in Paris then London) and the Polish resistance operating in German-occupied territories were the first to alert the Western allies about the extermination of Jews by Nazi Germany.’
Hurkacz and Świątek Rise in World Rankings
The good news story for Polish tennis, with top players in both the men’s and women’s games, continued this week with Hubert Hurkacz rising to a career best 11th in the latest ATP rankings. It follows his Wimbledon exploits reaching the semi-finals, beating Roger Federer along the way 6-3,7-6, 6-0 in the quarterfinal. He finally bowed out of Wimbledon last Friday on a 3-6, 0-6, 7-6, 4-6 scoreline to Italy’s Matteo Berrettini.
Meanwhile on the women’s side Iga Świątek rose a further place to world number 8 in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings after making it through to the fourth round of Wimbledon before making her exit last week.
That’s all for this week.
William Murphy writes for Hello Irlandia on political and general news.