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European Commission May Strip Poland Of Its Vote Among EU Nations


Leaders of the European Union have begun wondering just what some of the union's newest members are up to. Consider Poland, which has a new government. The actions of that government are now the subject of a formal inquiry by the European Union. The European Commission, to be specific, is asking if Poland is violating the rule of law in ways that could lead to Poland losing its vote in the EU. It's the first time the EU is challenging the way that a member country governs itself. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Warsaw.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Here in the Polish Parliament, several hasty and controversial decisions by the ruling Law and Justice party triggered the diplomatic row with Brussels. EU Commissioner Gunther Oettinger is one of Warsaw's toughest critics.


GUNTHER OETTINGER: (Speaking German).

NELSON: He recently told the German ARD network that the new Polish government's brand of politics is no good and warned officials they are risking their access to foreign investment. But the new Polish justice minister likened Oettinger's warnings to Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II, a not-so-subtle reference to the EU commissioner's German nationality. Polish Senator Jan Maria Jackowski, who is with the ruling Law and Justice party, was more diplomatic.

JAN MARIE JACKOWSKI: (Speaking Polish).

NELSON: He told NPR his country welcomes the opportunity to present its side today in Brussels. He and others in his party say the laws they enacted in rapid succession embrace Catholic and Polish values and demonstrate Warsaw's independence from Brussels. But the EU is concerned about what it views as the new Polish government extending its control of media here as well as its attempt to limit the power of the independent judiciary. Many critics accuse Warsaw of taking a page from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's playbook. He is also accused of curbing judicial and media freedoms and tinkering with the constitution to strengthen his party's rule.

JACKOWSKI: (Speaking Polish).

NELSON: Jackowski is open about his admiration of Orban, who the Polish senator describes as implementing sweeping reforms to undue problems created by his predecessor. But other polls are alarmed at the prospect of following the Hungarian path, including Ryszard Petru. He heads Modern, or Nowoczesna, a rising opposition party.

RYSZARD PETRU: In my view, the way the current government behaves is like an elephant in a china store. So they don't care how about how people react, what other people say, whether this is almost against the law.



NELSON: Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Warsaw and other Polish cities last month after the new government tried to change the makeup of the Polish Constitutional Court. Adam Bodnar is Poland's official ombudsman and is charged with protecting citizens' civil rights, which he says the new government appears determined to violate.

ADAM BODNAR: The thinking is that there should be no control of parliamentary acts adopted by the parliamentary majority.

NELSON: He says that's a problem for the EU, which expects its members to adhere to democratic principles and which came under fire for not enforcing those principles in Hungary.

BODNAR: If the European Union officials see a danger in compliance by Poland with those values, especially with the rule of law, that's their role, to react.

NELSON: Still, the ombudsman and other Polish critics say they prefer to find a solution to their political crisis here in Poland rather than in Brussels. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Warsaw. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.