US congressmen hear critical review of democracy in Poland

A US Congress commission on Wednesday heard critical expert opinions on the state of democracy in Poland and Hungary.

All the experts agreed the erosion of democracy in Hungary is more serious than in Poland, especially in terms of media freedom and election system.

The state of democracy in Poland and Hungry continues to deteriorate and the US should consider changes to the deployment of its troops in the countries or economic sanctions, Heather Conley, head of the German Marshall Fund think tank, told the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (US Helsinki Commission).

Conley, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs in George W. Bush's administration, said that given the inefficiency of the current US and EU actions to stop an "erosion of democracy" in Poland, the US should change its approach.

"We have to make an assessment of whether our force posture is in the appropriate place," Conley said. "We have to begin to look at imposing... economic costs for this," she continued and added that "this is the only way that we can arrest this behaviour potentially."

Conley told PAP she considered Poland an important US ally and that it was not easy for her to express such criticism. However, she said, only security issues can have any effect on the behaviour of the Polish government.

Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat, was more restrained in his views. He told PAP that he shared Conley's concerns but said that the US was going to adopt a friendly attitude towards Poland.

Dalibor Rohac of the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank and Zselyke Csaky from Freedom House shared similarly critical remarks on the situation in Poland in Hungary, though they postulated less radical measures.

Rohac said the US should apply different policies towards Poland and Hungary as Warsaw opposes Russian influence and has a balanced approach towards China, whereas Budapest has openly established close relations with both US adversaries.

He added that at some point Hungary will have to choose which side it is on.

According to Csaky, Poland's and Hungary's conflict with the EU poses an "existential challenge" to the bloc.

Only three members of the committee attended the sitting, all of them Democrats. A commission insider told PAP that US relations with Poland and Hungary have become a matter of dispute between the two main US parties.

The source said it was not a coincidence that a day earlier the highest Republican on the commission, Roger Wicker, issued a statement thanking Poland and Hungary for their involvement in the Nato mission in Afghanistan.

The conservative governments in Poland and Hungary have been in conflict with the EU over a number of issues, most notably their reforms affecting the judiciary, media, minorities and women's rights. Warsaw and Budapest insist that they have the sovereign right to reform their systems, but Brussels claims the changes run against European values.