Posts Tagged ‘poland’

Czech PM designate: EU should not push us over migrants — EU might embolden extremist elements

December 9, 2017


PRAGUE (Reuters) – The designated Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said that the European Union should not push Czechs over their refusal to shelter asylum-seekers, because it could strengthen extremist parties in the country.

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Czech newly appointed Prime Minister Andrej Babis attends a news conference at Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic December 6, 2017. REUTERS/David W Cerny

The European Union’s executive will sue Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in the bloc’s top court for their refusal to host asylum-seekers, Brussels said on Thursday.

Babis, whose government is due to be appointed by President Milos Zeman on Dec. 13, repeated his country’s stance on migrants.

“The (European) Commission can withdraw the charge at any moment. We have to negotiate on this and to offer different models, like guarding the borders or help to other countries. But we don’t want any refugees,” Babis said in an interview published on Saturday by the Pravo daily paper.

He will represent his country at the EU summit on Dec. 14 and Dec. 15, where European leaders will discuss migration.

The Czechs have declined to shelter asylum-seekers despite an overall drop in arrivals due to tighter borders and projects beyond the EU’s frontiers to discourage migration to Europe.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) cases could lead to financial penalties but may take months, or years, to conclude.

Babis said that by pushing on with the case, the EU might embolden extremist elements.

“The EU has to understand, that if it won’t listen to our proposals, then the influence of extremist parties like (Germany‘s) AfD or (Czech) SPD will grow, whose strategy actually is to destroy the EU,” he said.

Despite his ANO party winning the parliamentary election by a landslide in October, it is unclear whether Babis will be able to win a confidence vote for his government by mid-January as required by the constitution. He also faces the threat of prosecution in connection with his business interests.

The far-right, anti-EU and anti-NATO SPD party and the Communists have lent ANO support in several initial votes in parliament in return for committee posts for their members, raising the prospect that they may have some kind of agreement to back ANO.

But Babis reiterated in the Pravo interview that there was no deal in place and he would talk to all parties to either back the cabinet or abstain from the vote to help ANO win.

Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle


Poland adopts more controversial judicial reforms

December 8, 2017


© AFP/File | Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice government, which began making changes to the judiciary after coming to power in late 2015, insists reforms are needed to combat corruption and overhaul the judicial system still haunted by the communist era

WARSAW (AFP) – Poland’s right-wing dominated parliament on Friday passed controversial reforms that opposition politicians and the EU insist further undermine judicial independence and the separation of powers.The reforms allow parliament to choose members of a body designed to protect judicial independence and reinforce political control over the Supreme Court.

Warsaw has already come under heavy fire from Brussels for a string of earlier judicial reforms that the bloc argues pose a “systemic threat” to the rule of law.

The EU has warned Poland it may trigger Article Seven of the EU’s treaties — the so-called “nuclear option” that freezes voting rights — over the previous reforms.

Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government, which began making changes to the judiciary after coming to power in late 2015, insists the new reforms are needed to combat corruption and overhaul the judicial system still haunted by the communist era.

The measures approved Friday, which are expected to win backing from the PiS-controlled Senate and President Andrzej Duda, are likely to inflame further tensions.

– ‘Erode rule of law’ –

The law on the Supreme Court reduces the retirement age of its members to 65 from 70 as a way to “decommunise” it by removing judges who may have served in communist courts before the regime collapsed in 1989.

The president can however allow individual judges to continue working until 70 years of age.

Critics insist the measure is illegal as it requires the departure of the court’s existing chief justice, Malgorzata Gersdorf, who is only half way through the her constitutionally mandated six-year term.

Critics also allege that the PiS administration simply wants to purge a judiciary it believes is still stacked in favour of supporters of former liberal prime minister Donald Tusk, a political arch-rival who is now president of the European Council.

Reforms passed Friday to the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), a body intended to guarantee judicial impartiality, mean that parliament will now choose its 15 judges. Previously, judges themselves chose the KRS members.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, insisted Friday that the new reforms “will further undermine the independence of the judiciary by subordinating it to the executive and the legislature and will thereby further erode the separation of powers and the rule of law.”

Duda proposed new versions of the reforms of the Supreme Court and the KRS after he vetoed changes backed by the PiS government in July.

He had argued that the legislation gave too large of a role to the attorney general, who in Poland is also the justice minister.

The initial reforms had sparked massive street protests, concern from the US State Department and threats of EU sanctions.

Poland’s finance minister to replace Beata Szydło as prime minister

December 8, 2017

Mateusz Morawiecki is to succeed Szydło as head of governing Law and Justice party as administration gears up for series of elections

Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland's finance minister
 Mateusz Morawiecki, the finance minister, has made a name for himself by taking on tax evasion. Photograph: Patryk Ogorzałek/Agencja Gazeta via Reuters

Poland’s governing Law and Justice (PiS) party has named the development and finance minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, to replace the prime minister, Beata Szydło, who tendered her resignation on Thursday.

Morawiecki, 49, who has made a name for himself by taking on tax evasion and bolstering the welfare state, takes the job at the beginning of what is expected to be a broader government reshuffle to prepare the rightwing party for votes due in the next three years: next year’s local elections are followed by a parliamentary poll in 2019 and a presidential election in 2020.

Earlier on Thursday, Szydło survived a no-confidence motion in parliament tabled by the liberal opposition, amid reports that she would be replaced by her own party by the end of the day.

Since the Eurosceptic PiS won power two years ago, Szydło has overseen sweeping changes to state institutions in Poland, which critics in the European Union and Washington say have subverted democracy and the rule of law.

Despite the criticism, her conservative government was one of the most popular in Poland since the 1989 collapse of communism, largely due to low unemployment, increases in public spending and a focus on traditional Catholic values in public life.

“The last two years – it was an extraordinary time for me and the service to Poland and Poles was an honour,” Szydło said on Twitter.

Jan Dziedziczak, the deputy foreign minister, told the Polish PAP news agency that Szydło was expected to stay on as a deputy prime minister in the PiS government.

Further changes to the government are due in January, the PAP said.

EU steps up pressure on Hungary over Soros school, NGO laws, migration

December 7, 2017

Image result for Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Hungary, photos

Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Hungary


BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s executive on Thursday stepped up its pressure on the nationalist government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Hungary over its treatment of immigrants, non-governmental groups (NGOs) and a liberal school.

Orban has been locked in a series of running battles with the EU, where Western states and the Brussels-based executive Commission decry what they see as his authoritarian leanings, the squeezing of the opposition and the free media.

In a series of legal announcements, the European Commission said it was taking Budapest to the bloc’s top court, the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice, over its NGO laws as well as a higher education law that has targeted a Budapest university founded by U.S. financier George Soros.

Brussels also confirmed it was taking Hungary – along with eastern EU peers Poland and the Czech Republic – to the tribunal over refusing to host asylum-seekers under an EU-wide quota system.

It has in addition stepped up its legal case against Budapest over Hungary’s asylum laws.

Separately on Thursday, European lawmakers were debating whether the rule of law and democratic standards in Hungary are under threat more generally and to an extent that would merit the triggering of an unprecedented punishment against Budapest.

The so-called Article 7 procedure would shame Orban by denouncing his government as undemocratic and could even lead to the maximum – though practically highly unlikely – sanction of stripping Hungary of its voting rights in the EU.

The Commission’s First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, however, made clear the executive did not side with the parliament’s broader, tougher view of Hungary.

“We believe that we are dealing with very specific issues where we have disagreements with the Hungarian government,” Timmermans told a news conference. “For now, the Commission does not see the need to move to another track.”

“The situation in Hungary is not in that sense comparable to the systemic threats to the rule of law which we see in Poland,” he said of Orban’s closest EU ally, the euroskeptic, nationalist Polish government of the Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, Lily Cusack and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Hugh Lawson

Poles Protest Planned Overhaul of Courts, Election Body

November 25, 2017
 Updated on 
Demonstrators gather in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw on Nov. 24, 2017.

Photographer: Janek Skarzynski/AFP via Getty Images

Warsaw, Poland (AP) — Poles held demonstrations in cities across the country Friday to protest plans by the ruling party to push through laws that would give it greater control over the courts and the national election commission.

The protesters rallied under the slogan “free courts, free elections, free Poland,” after lawmakers voted earlier in the day to give preliminary approval to the changes. Protests were also held abroad, including in Chicago, London and Dublin.

The ruling Law and Justice party has already pushed through two laws which have given it greater power over the Constitutional Tribunal and ordinary courts.

Two other bills on the judicial system that sparked large protests in the summer were blocked by the president but have returned to the legislature in modified form. The lawmakers sent them for fine-tuning to a specialized commission and a vote on a final version could be held in early December. It would then need approval from the Senate and from President Andrzej Duda.

The European Union says that if passed, the bills would undermine the separation of powers, while Polish critics see these and other changes as a power grab that has nothing to do with improving the justice system.

The ruling party, however, says it is making needed reforms that have not been tackled yet since communism fell in 1989. It says the protests are the work of post-communist elites seeking to hold onto their privileges.

China denounces new U.S. sanctions on North Korea

November 22, 2017
By Elizabeth Shim  |  Nov. 22, 2017 at 10:56 AM

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Wednesday Beijing does not welcome unilateral U.S. sanctions against Chinese firms. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI

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Nov. 22 (UPI) — China voiced its opposition to new U.S. sanctions on Wednesday, a day after the United States Treasury announced a blacklist of North Korean and Chinese firms.

Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the Chinese government views “unilateral sanctions” as “misconduct.”

During the regular press briefing, Lu also defended Chinese efforts in curbing North Korea, South Korean news service EDaily reported.

“I would like to point out again China has consistently opposed the misconduct of other countries, or enforcing unilateral sanctions based on their own laws,” Lu said.

The U.S. Treasury includes an embargo against Chinese trading companies that the United States says have helped North Korea circumvent existing sanctions.

“These designations include companies that have engaged in trade with North Korea cumulatively worth hundreds of millions of dollars. We are also sanctioning the shipping and transportation companies, and their vessels, that facilitate North Korea’s trade and its deceptive maneuvers,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said.

China’s foreign ministry said it has no issues with implementing international sanctions, and that the sanctions are being actively enforced.

“If Chinese citizens or businesses violate laws in Chinese territory, we will investigate them strictly according to law,” Lu said, suggesting the United States may be overstepping its boundaries in seeking out punitive measures against Chinese companies. “If other countries have information on these issues, we can share information and cooperate on pertinent problems.”

One individual, 13 entities and 20 vessels were included on the Treasury’s blacklist.

One of the Chinese companies under sanctions, Dandong Dongyuan Industrial Co., is suspected of supplying North Korea with equipment and parts related to the development of nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles.

China may be struggling with North Korea and efforts at diplomacy.

Chinese President Xi Jinping‘s envoy to Pyongyang, Song Tao, met with top North Korean officials Choe Ryong Hae and Ri Su Yong.

But he may have not met with Kim Jong Un, the South China Morning Post reported.

Yoo Seung-min, a South Korean opposition party lawmaker, said Wednesday North Korea’s snub of China’s envoy is a sign Beijing should move in coordination with the United States, including on sanctions, South Korean news service Newsis reported.


U.S. sanctions 13 Chinese and North Korean organizations

November 22, 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions against 13 Chinese and North Korean organizations Washington accused of helping evade nuclear restrictions against Pyongyang and supporting the country through trade.

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The U.S. Treasury announced the action, one day after President Donald Trump put North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism, on its website.

The new sanctions demonstrate the Trump administration’s focus on hurting trade between China and North Korea, which it has said is key to pressuring Pyongyang to back away from its ambition to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States.

“This designation will impose further sanctions and penalties on North Korea and related persons and supports our maximum pressure campaign to isolate the murderous regime,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.

The sanctions included blacklisting three Chinese companies, Dandong Kehua Economy & Trade Co., Dandong Xianghe Trading Co., and Dandong Hongda Trade Co., which the Treasury Department said have done more than $750 million in combined trade with North Korea.

The sanctions also blacklisted Sun Sidong and his company Dandong Dongyuan Industrial Co. In a June report, Washington think tank C4ADS said Sun Sidong’s firm was part of an interconnected network of Chinese companies that account for the vast proportion of trade with North Korea.

U.S. authorities have repeatedly targeted companies and individuals from the Chinese city of Dandong, which borders North Korea, for alleged business ties to North Korea.

Anthony Ruggiero, a North Korea expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said China doesn’t strictly enforce financial rules in the Dandong area. As a result, Dandong draws companies interested in making a profit by selling to North Korea, he said.

The new sanctions also hit several North Korean companies that send workers to countries such as Russia, Poland, Cambodia and China. United States authorities said they are seeking to cut off the money North Korea makes from the export of labor.

Along with targeting sources of weapons technology, the sanctions marked the first time the United States sought to directly attack North Korea’s everyday consumer trade, said Peter Harrell, a sanctions expert at the Center for a New American Security.

“We are sanctioning companies involved in ordinary trade,” Harrell said. “That’s the logical next step of the pressure campaign.”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the sanctions were part of an effort to further isolate Pyongyang and said she did not think that the targeting of more Chinese firms would lessen Beijing’s cooperation in resolving the North Korean issue.

“I don’t think it jeopardizes anything. I think the world has come together on this issue,” she said. “We have a good relationship with China. That’s not going to change.”

Reporting by Joel Schectman; Editing by James Dalgleish

US and Poland strike $10.5 billion missile defense deal

November 18, 2017

The US has approved the $10.5 billion sale of a Patriot anti-missile system to NATO ally Poland. Eastern European NATO states have been ramping up their military capabilities in the face of perceived Russian aggression.

Polish President Andrzej Duda welcomes Donald Trump during state visit in July 2017 (Reuters/C. Barria)

In a move likely to irk Russia, the US and Poland agreed on Friday a major arms deal that could see the eastern European NATO member soon begin conducting air and missile defense operations.

As part of the $10.5 billion (€8.9 billion) sale, Poland is expected to receive 208 Patriot Advanced Capabilty-3 (PAC-3) Missile Segment Enhancement missiles, 16 M903 launching stations, four AN/MPQ-65 radars, four control stations, spares, software and associated equipment.

Read moreNATO in a nutshell: What you need to know

Made by US defense contractor Raytheon, the missiles are reportedly designed to detect, track and engage unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), cruise missiles and short-range or tactical ballistic missiles.

In a statement issued following the sale, the State Department said that: “A secure Europe capable of deterring air and missile threats and other forms of aggression promotes peace and stability within NATO and on the European continent.”

The transaction still requires congressional approval, since any sale of advanced military technology to another country requires special permission. Congress has 15 days to raise any objections to the deal, although this agreement is expected to pass swiftly, given the close military ties between the two countries.

During US President Donald Trump’s visit  to Warsaw in July, the US and Poland signed a memorandum of intent for weapons sales.

Poland is one of a handful of eastern European nations that has increasingly built up their military capacity in the face of potential Russian aggression, following the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Read more: Eastern Europe’s defense industry: from boom to bang?

Last year Russia deployed nuclear-capable Iskaner missiles on its Kaliningrad exclave bordering Lithuania and Poland. The move rattled NATO members, and prompted members, including the US and Germany, to begin carrying out military drills in the region.

Poland joins the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Greece as one of the few European countries in possession of a Patriot air-defense system. The US has also recently deployed a Patriot battery in Lithuania as part of the multinational NATO exercises in the Baltic region.

Pentagon Moves to Develop Banned Intermediate Missile

November 17, 2017

Washington is raising pressure on Russia, saying it is violating an arms control treaty

The U.S. is laying the groundwork to build a type of missile banned by a Cold War-era pact unless Russia abandons its own pursuit of the weapons, U.S. officials said.

The U.S. military’s preliminary research and development, previously undisclosed, is aimed at potentially reviving an arsenal of prohibited ground-based, intermediate-range missiles if Moscow continues violating the pact, the officials said.

American officials say they don’t want to end the Cold War-era accord, known as the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or the INF, but rather bring Russia back into compliance. Washington hopes to show Moscow the kinds of new American weapons Russia’s armed forces would face if they don’t stop violating the INF, U.S. officials say.

The U.S. told Russia of its research project in recent weeks, according to U.S. officials, but said was ready to abandon it if Russia returns to compliance, the officials said.

“The idea here is we need to send a message to the Russians that they will pay a military price for violation of this treaty,” one U.S. official said. “We are posturing ourselves to live in a post-INF world…if that is the world the Russians want.”

A Russian official said Thursday that the U.S., not Moscow, has been violating the treaty through its missile-defense installations in Europe. The U.S. denies that claim. The official added that Russian President Vladimir Putin has said a U.S. treaty withdrawal would bring an “immediate and reciprocal” Russian response.

In meetings in Brussels last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told allies that Washington was trying to use new leverage to push Moscow into compliance. He said Washington had no plans to abandon the INF.

“Our effort is to bring Russia back into compliance,” Mr. Mattis said last week. “It is not to walk away from the treaty.”

Arms Control

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force, or INF, Treaty was signed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and his Soviet counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev in Washington on Dec. 8, 1987. Key facts about the treaty:

  • Banned the use of intermediate and shorter range missiles with a range of 500 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers (about 300 to 3,400 miles).
  • By 1991, it eliminated more than 2,700 U.S. and Soviet missiles, including hundreds of American Pershing IIs and Soviet SS-20s.
  • The U.S. gave up 846 missile systems and the Soviets scrapped 1,846 systems.
  • The U.S. missiles were in countries including Germany, the U.K., Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands.
  • The Soviet missiles were in Belarus, Bulgaria, then-Czechoslovakia, Ukraine and Russia, among others.
  • Source: U.S. State Department, Federal of American Scientists, INF Treaty documents.

The U.S. would only be in violation of the treaty if it tests, produces or fields the new ground-based cruise missile under development. Researching and designing the weapon doesn’t constitute a violation.

Mr. Mattis is trying to balance Washington’s more muscular response with European fears that the U.S. would abandon an arms-control pact that leaders on the continent saw as a critical milestone in reducing Cold War tensions.

The INF push is part of a larger effort to craft a new Russia strategy by the State and Defense Departments, U.S. officials said. The administration is making a push for a Ukraine peacekeeping deal and is trying to strengthen arms control accords that have frayed amid U.S.-Russian tensions, say U.S. officials.

This summer, Congress instructed the Pentagon to begin research and development on an intermediate-range, road-mobile, ground-launched missile system in response to Russia’s violations of the treaty. The Pentagon started preliminary research for the missile given the likelihood that it soon would be required by law, U.S. officials said.

The House and Senate passed legislation authorizing research and development of a conventional “ground mobile” cruise missile, adding an extra potential challenge to Russian defenses if deployed. The White House is likely to approve it in the coming weeks, U.S. officials said.

The legislation also requires the administration to develop a new plan for additional sanctions on Russia related to its violations of the INF and authorizes the administration to “invoke legal countermeasures,” including possible suspension of the treaty.

For months, the U.S. has sought ways to secure Russian compliance with the INF. The U.S. summoned Moscow in late 2016 to a mandatory meeting under a special treaty commission to answer for the alleged Russian violations, to no avail.

In March, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Russians had violated the treaty by deploying a land-based cruise missile. The missile’s range puts it at odds with the treaty, U.S. officials have said.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan, right, and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty in the White House in 1987.Photo: REUTERS

The INF Treaty, signed by the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1987, entered into force the following year and banned the use and production of nuclear and conventionally-armed missiles that fly between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (311 miles and 3,418 miles). It doesn’t ban those fired by ships or aircraft.

Russian officials have denied they are in violation of the treaty and instead have accused the Pentagon of violating the pact by installing Aegis Ashore missile defense systems in Romania and Poland. U.S. officials have denied that accusation, saying that the Aegis systems launch only missiles outside the parameters of the treaty.

The legislation calls on the administration to determine whether Russia’s RS-26 is banned by the INF or will be regulated as an intercontinental ballistic missile. Moscow also has stoked concern with its SSC-8 cruise missile.

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Russia’s RS-26

The INF Treaty remains critical for Europe’s security. The pact removed American-made Pershing II missiles from Europe, along with Soviet RDS-10 Pioneer, known to NATO as the SS-20.

The usually stoic NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, grew passionate this month while defending the INF Treaty’s importance.

“I’m part of a political generation in Europe which really grew up with the very intense debate related to the deployment of the SS-20s and the Pershing,” he said. “We also very much welcomed the INF Treaty which then eliminated all these weapons in Europe. So, I think that the INF Treaty is a cornerstone.”

Write to Julian E. Barnes at, Paul Sonne at and Brett Forrest at

Poland blasts ‘scandalous’ EU parliament call for sanctions

November 15, 2017


© AFP/File | Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said the European Parliament’s move was “scandalous”

STRASBOURG (FRANCE) (AFP) – Poland’s prime minister reacted furiously on Wednesday after the European Parliament called for the country to face EU sanctions over its controversial judicial reforms.Members of the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of a resolution condemning “grave violations” of the rule of law, and of triggering a procedure that could eventually suspend Warsaw’s voting rights in the European Union.

Poland’s rightwing government and the EU have been at loggerheads for months over proposed changes to the Polish court system that Brussels views as a threat to the union’s underpinning democratic values.

Rightwing Polish lawmakers walked out of the vote in Strasbourg, France, and Polish premier Beata Szydlo launched a furious attack on the move by the parliament.

“At the European summit on Friday I will give my views on the scandalous events in the European Parliament,” Szydlo said on Twitter, referring to a meeting of EU leaders in Sweden this week.

 Image result for Frans Timmermans, photos
European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans

She condemned opposition Polish MEPs for “defaming” the country by staying in parliament for the vote.

The proposals to overhaul Poland’s judicial system have led to mass street protests and prompted Polish freedom icon Lech Walesa to express concern about his country’s fate in Europe.

The EU says all the Polish reforms pose a “systemic threat” to the rule of law, with Brussels having warned it could trigger Article Seven of the EU’s treaties, which deals with the Rule of Law.

That could eventually lead to the so-called nuclear option of freezing Poland’s voting rights within the bloc.

“We have now sent four letters to the Polish authorities to seek a meeting” but received no response, European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans, who has been leading the EU’s response on the issue, told MEPs.

A growing east-west split in the EU has seen Brussels take on both Poland and Hungary over a series of issues including rights and the countries’ refusal to take in any migrants.