Poland’s leaders have a message for the EU ahead of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s address to the European Parliament on Tuesday — “We’re not giving in to any blackmail.”
Those are the words of Jarosław Kaczyński, the country’s de facto leader and chief of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, in a new interview with the pro-government Sieci portal.
That view comes as Morawiecki on Monday sent a missive to his fellow EU leaders, who he’s set to meet during a European Council gathering on Thursday and Friday, calling on them to be “open to dialogue.”
“I wish to reassure you that Poland remains a loyal member of the European Union,” the Polish prime minister said, stressing that Poland is following EU law and respects the verdicts of the Court of Justice of the EU. “We are obliged to do so to the extent required in the Treaties. Not one iota less — and not one iota more.”
The Polish responses come as the EU enters what’s billed to be one of the tensest weeks in the fraught relationship between Warsaw and Brussels. Long-running anxieties over the rule of law in Poland, caused by the nationalist ruling party’s effort to exert greater political control over the judicial system, have come to a head after a ruling earlier this month by the country’s Constitutional Tribunal found the Polish constitution has primacy over some aspects of EU law, effectively undermining the European Union’s legal bedrock.
That’s prompting the European Commission to go slow on approving Poland’s request for €24 billion in grants and €12 billion in loans under the EU’s pandemic recovery program.
Although Poland and the rule of law are not on the agenda for this week’s leaders’ meeting, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said he’ll push to freeze Poland’s money. However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already cautioned EU countries and the European Parliament against rushing to block Poland’s recovery funds.
The European Parliament is also putting pressure on Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to act against Poland, either by blocking the pandemic relief money or by triggering a new mechanism that links EU funding to rule-of-law criteria.
The crisis with Brussels has the opposition in Poland warning that PiS is aiming to quit the EU in what it dubs a “Polexit.” That could cause a potential problem for the government, as EU membership is enormously popular in the country.
In his interview, Kaczyński stressed that Polexit “is complete nonsense.”
“Looking at all these attacks on Poland, we can’t ignore one more element — Russian influence in Europe,” he said.
He also added that Poland is planning to once again change its approach to the justice system, this time by eliminating a new disciplinary chamber in the Supreme Court, a body that the EU Court of Justice ruled should be suspended as it lacks guarantees of “independence and impartiality.”
“In its current shape [the chamber] doesn’t fulfill the planned goals but creates unnecessary tensions,” Kaczyński said. “After this reform, a least one of the points of tension will disappear.”
In his letter to fellow leaders, Moraweicki tried to explain that Poland was acting in the wider interests of EU countries in its ongoing battles over rule of law.
He said he wanted to draw their attention “to a dangerous phenomenon that threatens the future of our Union. We ought to be anxious about the gradual transformation of the Union into an entity that would cease to be an alliance of free, equal and sovereign states, and instead become a single, centrally managed organism, run by institutions deprived of democratic control by the citizens of European countries.”
Morawiecki also argued that Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal has done nothing more than similar courts in other EU countries that have also clashed with the EU and the Court of Justice. “This is a well-trodden path of jurisprudence, which is by no means a novelty,” he wrote.
However, many legal analysts disagree. The consequences of the ruling “might be severe not only for Poland, but for the whole European Union,” wrote Medel, a legal NGO.
Morawiecki appealed to his fellow leaders to dodge a confrontation over the rule of law.
“The language of financial blackmail, punishment, ‘starving’ of unsubordinated states, undemocratic and centralist pressures do not have a place in European politics,” he said, adding: “Poland is ready for dialogue. We look forward to talking — in the spirit of mutual respect, and respect of our sovereignty, without pushing us to give up our national competences.”
In a sign that Warsaw isn’t planning to retreat, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, the man who has pushed through the far-reaching changes to the court system, on Monday said he’ll pressure his government to launch a case before the Court of Justice of the EU against Germany for violating the EU Treaties by politicizing its own judiciary. His argument is Germany is guilty of the same thing Poland stands accused of — politicians choosing judges.
“We’re in the EU,” Ziobro told reporters. “These principles must be common and must be rigorously observed.”
But Poland has come under fire because the government is breaking rules laid out in the constitution for how judges are chosen; the same doesn’t apply to Germany.