July 27, 2017 / 5:16 PM / in 4 months

Poland's Kaczynski vows 'radical' court reform will happen, targets private media

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is sticking to its flagship plans for “radical” reform of the judiciary, despite seeing two bills vetoed by the president this week, PiS head Jaroslaw Kaczynski said on Thursday.

People attend a protest against judicial reforms in front of the Supreme Court in Warsaw, Poland, July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Kaczynski, who holds no government post but is widely seen as Poland’s de facto leader, also promised legislation to reduce the concentration of ownership in private media, in the face of what was likely to be “strong resistance”.

In his first public comments since President Andrzej Duda’s veto of two bills designed to give the government direct influence over the make-up of the Supreme Court, he told TV Trwam in an interview that Duda had made a “very serious mistake”, but the focus needed to be on how to proceed.

“This means there will be a reform, a radical reform ... Partial reform won’t change anything,” Kaczynski said, without saying exactly what he planned to do.

PiS argues that the courts are too slow and unaccountable to the people, and tainted with communist-era thinking. Duda had said he will present his own versions of the bills within two months.

“The president has clearly said that he wants to take the initiative here and under no circumstances will we disturb him in this,” Kaczynski said.

The European Commission on Wednesday announced fresh legal action against Poland because it said the reforms would undermine the independence of judges and break EU rules, accusations denied by Warsaw.

The Commission gave Poland a month to respond to its concerns for the rule of law, warning that it may start an Article 7 censure process. This could eventually lead to Poland’s voting rights being suspended, if all the other 27 member states agree.

MEDIA THE NEXT TARGET

Kaczynski, whose eurosceptic, nationalist-minded party has alienated much of the liberal urban population since coming to power in 2015, but remains popular among its core small-town voters, dismissed the threat.

“We will wait this month out. In the second phase of this procedure, a unanimous position is needed. And I am convinced that it will not be achieved,” Kaczynski said. “These are attempts to exert psychological pressure.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has promised to block any such move, to defend Poland against an EU “inquisition”.

Kaczynski also said PiS planned to reduce the concentration of ownership in Poland’s private media sector.

“With respect to big reforms, then with all certainty we have the issue of reducing concentration in the media. There will also be very strong resistance here,” Kaczynski said.

Foreign-owned firms such as German publisher Axel Springer, Swiss-based Ringier and the U.S. firm Scripps Network Interactive, which owns Poland’s biggest private television network, TVN, have a large presence in Poland.

There are also private Polish-owned broadcasters such as Polsat, controlled by one of Poland’s richest men, Zygmunt Solorz-Zak.

Since coming to power, the PiS has not only increased government influence over courts but also brought prosecutors and state media under direct government control and introduced some restrictions on public gatherings.

Writing by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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