Polish PM challenges head of largest group in European Parliament to debate

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has challenged Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest grouping in the European Parliament, to a televised debate, accusing him of an attempt to interfere with the elections in Poland that are to take place this autumn.

The call came after Weber said in an interview with German TV channel ZDF on Sunday that parties that refuse to be a “democratic partner” are “enemies and will be fought against”, equating Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) with Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD) and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party in France.

“Every party must accept the rule of law; this is a firewall against PiS representatives in Poland who systematically attack the rule of law and the free media,” Weber said.

Miarka się przebrała. @ManfredWeber, który na co dzień posługuje się @donaldtusk jako swoim pomocnikiem w Polsce, znów zaatakował. Wzywam na debatę. Jeszcze dziś wyślę szczegóły. #TuskPomocnikWebera pic.twitter.com/DbhbeLSZDy

— Mateusz Morawiecki (@MorawieckiM) August 8, 2023

Weber has repeatedly criticised the Polish government in the past. In June, in an interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the EPP president said that his formation was “the only force that can replace PiS in Poland and lead the country back to Europe”.

His comments on Sunday provoked the anger of the Polish prime minister, who said in a video posted on social media: “enough is enough”, calling for the German politician to face him in a televised debate.

“If Germany openly admits that it will interfere in Poland’s elections, then it shall stand to fight openly,” said Morawiecki, also accusing Weber of using the leader of the Polish opposition, Donald Tusk, as “his facilitator”. Tusk’s party, the largest opposition party in Poland, is part of the EPP, which is led by Weber. The PiS party has long accused Tusk of acting in favour of Germany and against Polish interests.

The whole interview can be read here, and is more about the nature restoration law than about Pis. https://t.co/KBhtgLhRvV

— Dirk Gotink (@DirkGotink) June 26, 2023

“As prime minister of a Polish government that represents a democratically elected majority in the Sejm, I will not allow the elections of the Polish people to be vilified in this way,” said Morawiecki. His group faces a tough reelection fight for an unprecedented third consecutive term. Although the party is leading in the polls, it is likely to struggle to win enough seats to govern independently.

Morawiecki’s proposed debate date would fall on 2 October. Although the date of the Polish parliamentary elections is not yet set, many commentators speculate that the Polish president may set the elections for 15 October, a day before the yearly celebrations of Pope John Paul II, who is a national hero to many.

Polish government condemns German EPP leader’s call to “replace ruling party in Poland”

Weber is yet to respond to Morawiecki’s call.

The readiness for a debate was previously expressed by Tusk. He declared that he wanted to debate before the parliamentary elections with the leader of the Law and Justice party, Jarosław Kaczyński.

PiS secretary general, Krzysztof Sobolewski, said earlier this year that Kaczyński was also ready for a debate with Tusk on the condition that “it would be a substantive debate with arguments and not a show lined with lies, aggression and manipulation,” the state-run Polish Press Agency (PAP) reported.

In 2021, the PiS leader said he would take part in a debate with Tusk if the latter “apologised” for being “the author to a great extent of the great degradation of Polish public life”.

The last time the two heads of Poland’s largest political parties clashed in a debate was in 2007, when the then-ruling PiS party called an early election, which it lost to Tusk’s PO just a week after the debate.

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Main image credit: KPRM

Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.

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