Polish president strikes conciliatory tone ahead of Brussels talks

Polish President Andrzej Duda reached out Monday to his European partners before arriving for talks in Brussels, amid a dispute triggered by concerns that reforms by Warsaw may be in breach of the bloc's fundamental values.

Poland's new conservative government, which took office in November, has come under fire for a string of measures that critics say aim to strengthen its grip on the judiciary and the media.

The EU launched an investigation last week into the compatibility of the reforms with the bloc's basic democratic values. On Tuesday, the issue will be debated in the European Parliament, in the presence of Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo.

The dispute has raised tensions between Warsaw and its European partners, at a time when unity is needed within the 28-member EU to confront the bloc's migration crisis and other challenges.

Duda did not speak to the media on his arrival in Brussels, but he struck a conciliatory tone ahead of his visit, which included talks with EU President Donald Tusk, a fellow Pole.

"We are and will remain pro-European," Duda wrote in a guest contribution for the Financial Times newspaper.

"Poland wishes to maintain a friendly and fruitful relationship with all our partners in Europe. This is particularly true of Germany, given our proximity and our recent history of successful political and economic co-operation," he added.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the ruling Polish national conservative Law and Justice Party, took a harsher tone than Duda regarding the EU investigation.

"We have to follow our path and must not submit to pressure," Kaczynski told Polish newspaper Rzeczposolita.

"We're being attacked for nothing," he added.

The recent reforms have triggered a diplomatic tit-for-tat with Germany in particular, stoked by accusations from EU Parliament President Martin Schulz - a German national - that Warsaw was conducting "Putin-style politics."

On Monday, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn called the developments "very regrettable" and "serious."

But Duda defended the government's reform programme, noting that "democracy and free media in Poland are not endangered in the least."

He called on the EU to focus its attention instead on the bloc's "most troubling problems," pointing to the threat of terrorism and the migration crisis.

He also called on his European partners not to lose sight of the menace looming from Russia, and said they must "adapt to the new geopolitical circumstances."

"NATO's eastern flank should be reinforced. The alliance has to rebuild its deterrent capabilities. Defence expenditures must be increased," Duda wrote.

He is due to hold talks later Monday with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The military alliance is due to hold its next summit in Warsaw, in July.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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