BERLIN (AFP) – European Union (EU) Commissioner Gunther Oettinger on Sunday threatened to put Poland on notice for infringing on common European values by passing legislation giving the government control of the state media.
The move would start a series of steps that, if the law remains in place, could eventually see Warsaw lose its voting rights at the European Council, the organisation that groups the leaders of all 28 EU nations.
In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper, Oettinger, who is commissioner for the digital economy and society, warned: “Many reasons exist for us to activate the ‘Rule of Law mechanism’ and for us to place Warsaw under monitoring.”
His remarks come after Poland’s conservative government on Wednesday took control of state media after new legislation was passed giving it the power to directly appoint the heads of public broadcasters, despite EU concern and condemnation from rights watchdogs.
According to FAZ, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has placed the issue on the agenda of the commission’s next meeting on January 13.
The newspaper reported that Juncker was seeking to start a procedure in place to protect against “systemic dangers to the rule of law”.
Under that procedure, if the country in question does not accept changes to proposals put forward by the commission, the commission can initiate a “procedure over the violation of fundamental European values”, FAZ said.
Though the procedure has not yet been initiated, the potential sanctions could include “the withdrawal of voting rights” for the country in question, according to FAZ.
Oettinger plans to call for the procedure to be initiated against Poland, FAZ wrote, citing him as saying: “A director (of public radio or television) cannot be dismissed without cause. It would be arbitrary.”
Under the new law, senior figures in public radio and television will in future be appointed — and sacked — by the treasury minister, and no longer through contests by the National Broadcasting Council.
The new legislation will also see the current managers and supervisory board members of Poland’s public broadcasters fired with immediate effect.
It has been met with sharp criticism from media rights organisations including Reporters Without Borders, the European Broadcasting Union and the Association of European Journalists.