STRASBOURG — Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo on Tuesday defended as a sovereign right her government's changes to the judiciary and media, which the EU is probing to see if they violate democratic norms.
Szydlo told the European Parliament the changes were commitments made to voters before elections in Poland last October, and the European Union should thus see this "compact with the people" as a real expression of democracy.
Rather than rounding on Poland, the EU ought to be looking to engage with a country with a troubled history and which had fought at great cost for its freedom, she said.
"What is important for all of us is that we feel we are being supported by the EU... that Poland is a free, sovereign state and that its sovereignty is being respected," Szydlo said in remarks translated from Polish.
She repeated several times that Poland was as much part of the EU as the other 27 countries and told lawmakers, meeting in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, that the bloc must have more important things to be concerned with.
"I must say I do not see the need to devote so much time to Poland... I think you have many important issues to address (but) I am here because I want to engage in this dialogue."
Last week, the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, launched the first probe of its kind into the changes to Poland's constitutional court and state-run media to see if they contravened the bloc's "Rule of Law" principles.
European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, who is running the investigation, told the parliament that the EU was "founded on a common set of values and when they come under threat, the EU needs to act".
Timmermans stressed that the probe would be fair, open and co-operative, but explained that the replies to two letters he sent last month to Poland seeking an explanation were "not complete or sufficient."
A reply to a third letter launching the investigation had just been received and was being assessed, he said, without giving details.
"The Commission fully respects the sovereignty of Poland (and) ... carries out its duties impartially, as for any other member state."
European Union president Donald Tusk and his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda on Monday in Brussels urged calm on both sides in seeking to resolve the dispute.
Parliament head Martin Schulz late last year said the changes amounted to a "coup" in Poland, sparking blunt demands from Warsaw for an apology. — AFP