BRUSSELS (AP) — EU President Donald Tusk on Monday added a new twist to the simmering dispute over changes to key Polish laws, criticizing the European Commission for opening a probe into whether the changes meet the bloc's standards on rule of law.
Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, made the comments after a meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda, in which the two leaders sought to play down the dispute between the EU and Warsaw over the constitutional court and media legislation.
Tusk and Duda — from opposing political camps in Poland — said the bile from politicians on both sides should stop because it overshadows the deep cooperation between the EU and Poland.
Poland's new conservative government, led by the Law and Justice party, last month took steps to gain influence in the constitutional tribunal, which is supposed to be an independent arbiter. In addition, Duda last week signed a law that heads toward giving the government full control of state radio and television.
Critics say both moves undermine the tenets of Western democracy and last week the EU's executive Commission decided to carry out a preliminary assessment of the new laws, the first step in a drawn-out procedure that could ultimately lead to suspending Polish voting rights in the 28-nation bloc.
It dramatically increased the stakes in the dispute, something Tusk wanted to avoid. In a rare case of public criticism among EU institutions, Tusk said that "I can imagine this goal could be achieved by other methods, not necessarily triggering this procedure."
Tusk acknowledged that Poland's reputation "has been shaken slightly" by the introduction of the new laws, but insisted it was not enough to merit the verbal onslaught on his nation.
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders, whose country holds the EU presidency, said that "it is important that dialogue is now carried out in an intensive way with the Polish government," overriding the divisions within the EU itself.
Tusk said commentators and politicians should refrain from "hysterical behavior" and insisted that "the interests of Poland and the EU are basically the same."
Duda, for his part, said that "I can assure you that nothing exceptional is happening in Poland."
On Tuesday, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo will address the European Parliament, where several leading parties have already criticized the Polish measures.