Tusk, Duda not Poles apart on rights fight; EU rift instead

BRUSSELS (AP) — EU President Donald Tusk has turned on the European Commission for opening a case to see if changes to key Polish laws meet the bloc’s rule of law demands, adding a new twist to the simmering dispute over the laws.

Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, made the comments after a meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda, in which the two leaders sought to play down the dispute between the EU and Warsaw over the constitutional court and media legislation.

Tusk and Duda — from opposing political camps in Poland — said the bile from politicians on both sides should stop since it overshadows the deep cooperation between the EU and Poland.

Poland’s new conservative government, led by the Law and Justice party, last month took steps to gain influence in the constitutional tribunal, which is supposed to be an independent arbiter. In addition, Duda last week signed a law that heads toward giving the government full control of state radio and television.

Critics say both moves undermine the tenets of Western democracy and last week the EU’s executive Commission decided to carry out a preliminary assessment of the new laws, the first step in a drawn-out procedure that could ultimately lead to suspending Polish voting rights in the 28-nation bloc.

It dramatically increased the stakes in the dispute, something Tusk wanted to avoid. In a rare case of public criticism among EU institutions, Tusk said that “I can imagine this goal could be achieved by other methods, not necessarily triggering this procedure.”

“I am not very enthusiastic about it,” he added, and insisted he would make sure it is not discussed at the next EU summits of government leaders that he hosts.

Tusk acknowledged that Poland’s “reputation has been shaken slightly” by the introduction of the new laws, but insisted it was not enough to merit the verbal onslaught on his nation.

He said commentators and politicians should refrain from “hysterical behavior” and insisted that “the interests of Poland and the EU are basically the same.”

Duda, for his part, said that “I can assure you that nothing exceptional is happening in Poland.”

On Tuesday, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo will address the European Parliament, where several leading parties have already criticized the Polish measures.