Polish president gets cold reception from German journalists

Polish President Andrzej Duda and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier before the beginning of the Polish-German Forum. Photo: PAP/EPA/CLEMENS BILAN

President Andrzej Duda found himself under a barrage of difficult questions regarding Poland’s judicial reforms and the freedom of Polish media during a discussion panel with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier that was part of the 19th Polish-German Forum.

President Duda commented the ongoing Brexit dispute. Saying that European institutions should consider some responsibility for it, referring to stifling regulations. The remarks were met with booing from the audience.

Earlier, the journalist of the state-owned Deutsche Welle newspaper grilled President Duda about the judicial reform and the European Supreme Court decision forcing Warsaw to freeze its key judicial reform.

The Polish President responded by stressing Poland’s over-sensitivity to the issues of freedom an sovereignty. The answer was accompanied by an awkward allegory of traditional light bulbs being now unavailable to regular citizens because of an EU ban. According to observers this comment also roused “controversies and whispers in the room”, given that the vast majority of participants was used to German environmentally-friendly energy policies.

At that moment, another question came from the German “Tagesspiegel” editor regarding last Friday’s decision of the European Court of Justice to suspend Poland’s Supreme Court law, and specifically why Polish Radio had not broadcast the information.

The Polish President said that although he heads the presidential office, he “is not responsible for media in Poland” and was not listening to the radio at that time, adding quite emotionally that in Poland “if a woman was raped, the media would report the incident immediately and in all available detail”, which clearly came as an allusion to the German media’s delayed information about instances of rape by migrants, such as the one that took place on 2015/2016 New Year's Eve celebrations in Cologne.

Following the heated debate, Germany’s “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” wrote that “the time of lofty speeches in Polish-German relations is over”. The daily also wrote that the “worsening” of presidential debates and bilateral relations may be traced to Poland and Germany’s stance on migration, with “Warsaw trying to break European solidarity” and Berlin “never putting in an effort to seriously understand the Polish approach.”

The Polish observer, Marcin Kędzierski from the socio-political Klub Jagielloński think-tank, expressed his surprise why the Germans had organized such a “‘birthday’ shambles” for the Polish President on the occasion of the Independence Centennial. “Every time I come back from Germany I ask myself why should I continue to like Germans. The Spanish, Greeks and Italians have stopped. Do you Germans really want to have all European nations against you?” wrote Mr Kędzierski.