Witold Waszczykowski, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Poland HARDtalk

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Witold Waszczykowski, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Poland

Zeinab Badawi speaks to Polish foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski. Is a country that was held up as a model of post-Soviet transition turning away from liberal democracy?

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It has just gone past half past two in the morning. That means it is


time for HARDtalk. Welcome to HARDtalk with me, Zeinab


Badawi. What is going on in Poland? In July, the European Union began


legal action against the Polish government over proposed reforms,


that critics say will politicise the legal system. It has threatened to


withdraw funding and suspend voting rights in EU. My guess today is


Witold Waszczykowski. It is Poland turning away from liberal democracy?


And what does this mean for its people and its place in Europe and


the world. -- my guest tiday. -- today.


Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, and Warsaw, welcome


to HARDtalk. Your party won the elections but is now facing


criticisms. What has gone wrong? I don't think anything is wrong in


Poland. We are running the country for the last 21 months. We have very


strong democratic mandates from our people in Poland. And we are trying


to modernise the country, develop the country, and of course to stay


in the European Union and in Nato and implement all the decisions of


these institutions, also here in Poland. After the fall of the Soviet


Union, Poland was seen as a bastion of liberal democracy. We had the


leader of the Solidarity movement who became president and want the


Noble peace prize. The World Bank heaped praise on Poland for making


such a successful transition from communism to democracy. And now


look, you are getting criticisms from abroad, and also internally,


for being too authoritarian. We are still a democratic country, and we


want to continue our McReddie process. But we want democracy


without objectives. I live long enough, so I got to live in a


democracy with objectors. -- continue our democratic process.


Some people try to create other democracies, liberal democracies,


and that exclude some ideas and concepts. We just want to stay on


the democratic course and to be a democratic country without


objectives. We continue the transformation of the country. It is


developing at a high speed right now, about 4% growth per year. And


all democratic institutions are preserved and kept by our


institutions and our government and parliament. So those accusations


about authoritarianism are wrong. In May, tens of thousands of people


protested on the streets of Warsaw at what they say are curbs on


democracy. Critics claim that you are introducing reforms in the


judiciary which would compromise the independence of the courts, and give


too much power to the Justice minister, who is also the prosecutor


general. Yes, you are right. Tens of thousands of protesters were


protesting on the streets. But for millions of polish people that did


not protest, and our party and how we govern, where supported by 30% of


the population in Poland. We have a clear mandate to transform and


democratise the judicial system, which was left untouched for 28


years, says the Communist times. So I think that this is a judgement of


the opposition here in Poland, who find it difficult to accept the


verdict of the election which happened almost two years ago. --


since the Communist. They using this as an excuse just to judge


incorrectly our judgement. But can I put it to you that even the


President, Andrew Dudayev, a former member of your party, once these


proposals amended, because he says giving the Justice Minister the


power to dismiss members of the judiciary is not democratic. So even


the President is critical. -- Ondrej Duda. We accept that two vetoes, and


this discussion goes back to the Parliament. We will get together


with parliamentarians to find a solution for this problem. But even


the President, as you mentioned, he is critical about the contemporary


situation of the judiciary system. We have two continue the


transmission of the system. But maybe the better way. Everything is


going back to the Parliament to find a better solution for the


Parliament, to the judiciary system in Poland. You have angered the


European Union. The European Commission has announced legal


action against the Polish government. It is citing acute


concern about the independence of the Polish courts, which it says


will be undermined. So what are you going to do about that? You have


been invited for talks with the European Commission. Are you going


to discuss and amended the proposals, watered down? What is


going to happen? Yes, we engage Win a dialogue with commission. -- we


engaged in a dialogue. We are patient, and patiently, we are


trying to discuss and inform the commission about the process. The


process is going on, as you mentioned, even with some legal


action of the Parliament having been stopped by the President. So there


is a Cellino time for the commission to interfere in this situation. --


so there is absolutely. I don't see any legal excuse for the commission


to be engaged right now. We will exchange letters and opinions with


people like Mr Tillmans, but I don't see reason for the commission to


interfere in reforms and transformation of the system in


Poland. -- Tillerman. So the Polish government will have talks with the


European Commission, but you say you will not listen to opinions or take


advice at all. You will listen, but won't -- you will talk to me but


won't listen at all? I think that is wrongly evaluating our situation. --


talk to them. We engage in a dialogue. Just a few days go, I sent


a letter to Mr Timmermans, and asked for additional clarification on his


accusation against Polish reforms. I keep reminding him and others that


the process is not finished. It is ongoing. It back to the Parliament.


We don't see any reason why it the commission should interfere right


now. You also being criticised other reforms that are seen as falling


short of European Union values. Last year, there was a controversial law


approved to allow Poland to appoint the heads of TV and radio. Poland


has been accused of threatening, and European values. As you write an end


and the threat as you rightly mentioned, this is public radio and


television. This is owned by state owned institutions. -- as you


rightly mentioned. The situation is in European Union countries, and we


are not touching the private media, or interfering in private TV or


radio or newspapers, but those media who belong to the state, of course


they are ruled by the state owned institutions. This is a prerogative


of the state to nominate the chiefs of these institutions. Just like in


other countries, in other member states of the European Union. But


they are not attracting the criticisms that you are now. I mean,


for example, it is not just the European Union. The Council of


Europe, which is not part of Europe, the human rights Commissioner, he is


critical of Poland placing is public service media under direct


government control will stop so whatever you are doing, it is not


quite the same as other European Union countries. -- Humans Rights


Commissioner. You go beyond by having this direct government


control, Ajer? I can only repeat what I said. I'm not the expert on


this. I and the Foreign Minister. So I prefer to engage in the foreign


policy of Poland, which is also important for the European Union and


the future of the European Union. But I can only repeat what I heard


from the experts that we are repeating and copying the solutions


which exist everywhere in many countries. -- I am the Foreign


Minister. All right. One thing that you do look at is this issue of


refugees. In June, the European Commission again launched an EU law


infringement procedure against Poland because you are refusing to


take in refugees, as part of an EU wide quota system. Why should Poland


be exempt from this? We disagree with the commission about the


mechanics of so-called relocation, because decisions are taken against


the international treaties, the European treaties, against


international and European law. It is euphemistic to save relocation,


because in fact this is resettlement by force of people who do not want


to be resettled to a country like Poland. So we disagree with the


commission. The second problem is that we already have a large number


of migrants coming from the eastern part of Europe. Only last year, we


issued more than 1,200,000 visas for the Ukrainians. The majority chose


to stay in Poland. There are also migrants. I don't know why they are


coming from the Middle East and North Africa, why they are supposed


to be better evaluated, that are taking care of, by the institutions


in Europe than migrants coming from, also touched by war, Ukraine. So we


are the country which is open for migration, but we disagree with the


mechanics of taking decisions about migrants and refugees. So basically,


Poland does not want to take any migrants and refugees from the


Middle East and Africa, and the criticism there is that because


Poland is a very much in this country, with only 0.4% of your


population made up of foreigners. Over 90% are Roman Catholic. Cedar


one was a migrants. I will give you an example of what the Deputy Prime


Minister said last year. -- so not very many migrants. He said people


would be blown up. Is that what people don't like about Poland?


These ideas exist in the Polish population. More than 75% of polls


do not want to accept this relegation by force of the migrants


from North Africa and the Middle East. But we try to implement the


decisions of the commission from September 2015, and many months ago,


we sent our border guards to the camps in Italy and Greece, we sent


also security officers. Firstly try to identify some of these people.


And of course, the majority of them it is very difficult to identify


them. They do not have documents. This is a threat for the security of


the country. Of course, nobody from these migrants, these refugees, we


prefer to see migrants, had any inclination to emigrate to Poland.


So we cannot accept the situation. This progress in the European Union


is decided by relocation by force people who do not want be relocated


country like Poland. -- relocated to a country. This is a sentiment that


underscores what you have just said that make people unhappy about the


comments that are coming from official Poland, for example, the


chairman of the ruling party, said in April last year why he did want


refugees. These people bringing diseases, parasites, bacteria, they


don't affect them, but affect us. Is that kind of comment acceptable, to


using? Once again, I can only repeat that


75% of the Polish population is accepting the policing of the


government, not to accept the decision of the EU to resettle by


force people from Africa and the Middle East. We don't want to commit


suicide as a politician and a government, to go against the public


would do that. The accusation as spokesperson for the Catholic


bishops, who are urging Poland to receive refugees, says that fears


have been fuelled by some political parties. According to the Never


Began an organisation which tracks racist attacks in Poland, they say


they have increased considerably in the last year and that there is a


correlation between hate speech of the political class and those


assaults. So, there is a link. I put it to you one more time, are you


happy with the state of affairs? No, of course we are not happy. We have


discussed this issue and the problem of migrants during the visit last


year of Pope Francis. He was visiting us, he gave a speech in


Krakow and he mentioned that there are many ways to support, help and


assist refugees and migrants. He did not mention that Poland was supposed


to accept thousands of people from Syria and the Middle East. He had


the chance to visit the Vatican many times and discuss with the hierarchy


that situation. We all understand that we at first supposed to start


assisting people in the region of Middle East, not Africa. First we


engage with the European to help find them peace, a peaceful solution


for the war. That has been going on already for seven years in Syria. We


are supposed to control the borders of the EU. How are we supposed to


help them relocate in Europe? Both countries who have the ability to


accept these migrants may accept them, those who want to emigrate to


the country are supposed to emigrate. We cannot accept in the


21st century, resettlement by force. Once again, we are accepting


millions of migrants coming from Ukraine and other areas. Poland is


finding these people in Poland. You made that point, thank you. All


these things we have been discussing have drawn a lot of criticism from


the EU Poland. Poland is that biggest recipient of EU funding. In


2015, you received 13.4 billion euros in funding. You cannot afford


to fall out with the EU, can you? This funding, these structured funds


and subsidies which are part of the agreement between member states,


they are derived from the treaties. These funds have nothing to do with


the behaviour of the country. It is compensation for the opening of the


economic system, for the opening of the market, the investment, the


deals with other economies, stronger economies of the Western EU. Is


nothing to do with... It is not a reward for us for being liberal or


ante liberal. I reject this accusation that we are supposed to


give up receiving these funds because we are not behaving


correctly, according to some... Who do you think is making... Who is


making that accusation? I'll give you an example. The German vice


chancellor says, those countries that do not share a German values


should not count on German financial help. Germany is the biggest


contributor, by far, to the EU's funding. Are you saying that Poland


is not that risk of a withdrawal of EU funding? We cannot combine the


situation of migrants or European values to the economic operation,


because structural funds, this is a reward for the opening of the


economy, for the weaker economy, for cooperation with a stronger economy


of the Western European economy. It has to do with the population, with


the economy, but not with migrants. Is not a reward for accepting


migrants. Another thing that is creating some concern, in January of


this year, the United States deployed troops on Polish soil for


the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union. Germany in particular


is concerned about Nato exercises in Poland and the Baltics. And


increasing tensions with Russia. Are you not concerned about worsening


ties with Moscow? We are concerned already, for at least three years,


by the behaviour of Russia. Let me remind you that Russia initiated a


rebellion and have acted in regards to Crimea. There are incidences on


the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. Some years ago, Russia initiated


aggression against Georgia. So, reacting to this Russian policing,


Nato decided to build a special unit to support the security of the


Eastern area of Nato. Last year in Warsaw, Nato decided to deploy extra


troops. A somewhat tenuously decided, the United States decided


to send a whole brigade. Nato are correctly reacting to the acts of


Russia. Nato is defending and deterring, but also trying to keep a


dialogue with Russia. We support this dialogue. I have to put to


you... We sent deputy ministers to Moscow for dialogue. We then sent


another deputy to Moscow. We are reacting positively, but we do not


have a positive ads from the other side. Finally, are you enjoying


being Foreign Minister of Poland at this rather difficult time when you


are getting all these criticisms we have been discussing on this


HARDtalk? I can repeat what I started in the beginning, which I


did not finish is successfully because you prevented me to tell


you, for the very first time, we have clearly defined our foreign


goals and targets and policy. We have clearly defined our interest.


This interest is to implement, using the membership of the EU and of


Nato. Some of these interests do not coincide with the others, the other


members of this institution. We have a discussion, a live debate with


this. This is a decision or an action of the commission, it is only


a smokescreen. There are real problems of security, energy, with


the Common Market in Europe after Brexit. Decisions about Smart


protection, which is suggested by some other Western politicians. We


prefer to discuss, and I engage in discussion with my colleagues these


issues. But not directly with that conversation. This is an excuse to


deprive Poland of our position and to weaken our position in the


future, and in the budget of the European Union possibly. I have to


phrase the fact that this is not an easy job, but so far, successful.


Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski in Warsaw, thank you


very much for coming on HARDtalk. Thank


Zeinab Badawi speaks to Polish foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski. In July the European Union began legal action against the Polish government over controversial proposed reforms that critics say will politicise the legal system. It is threatening to withdraw funding and suspend Poland's voting rights in the EU. Is Poland, a country that was held up as a model of post-Soviet transition, turning away from liberal democracy?