Poland ‘open to talks but won’t bow to EU’

Poland will not bow to European Union “blackmail” but will seek to solve ongoing disputes, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says as he arrived to defend his country before a meeting of fellow leaders in an escalating ideological battle.

Long-running tensions between Poland’s ruling nationalists and those in the bloc favouring greater centralisation have risen sharply since Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled on October 7 that elements of EU law were incompatible with the country’s charter.

In challenging a central tenet of EU integration the case risks precipitating a new fundamental crisis for the bloc – still grappling with the after-effects of Brexit – as well as Poland losing generous European handouts.

“Some European institutions assume the right to decide on matters that have not been assigned to them,” Morawiecki said ahead of two days of talks among the bloc’s 27 members’ leaders in Brussels.

“We will not act under the pressure of blackmail, we are ready for dialogue, we do not agree to the ever-expanding competences (of EU institutions), but we will of course talk about how to resolve the current disputes in dialogue.”

His wealthy counterparts are particularly keen to prevent their governments’ cash contributions to the EU from benefiting socially conservative politicians who they see as undercutting human rights fixed in European laws.

French EU affairs minister, Clement Baune, said “the European project is no more” if joint rules fail.

“If dialogue does not work, we could resort to various types of sanctions,” he said before the summit as French President Emmanuel Macron told Morawiecki to work with executive Commission to find a solution to the dispute compatible with European principles.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed for a compromise.

“The rule of law is a central pillar of the European Union,” she stressed at a Brussels summit.

“On the other hand, we must find ways and possibilities to come together again.”

“Because a cascade of legal disputes at the European Court of Justice still isn’t a solution to the question of how to the rule of law can work in practice,” the conservative political heavyweight told reporters.

With the Polish ruling, Morawiecki’s Law and Justice (PiS) party raised the stakes in years of increasingly bitter feuds with the EU over democratic principles from the freedom of courts and media to the rights of women, migrants and LGBT people.

The Commission has for now barred Poland from tapping into 57 billion euros ($A88 billion) of emergency funds to help its economy emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The country also risks more penalties from the bloc’s top court.

Sweden, Finland and Luxembourg are also among those determined to bring the country into line and have stepped up their criticism since PiS came to power in 2015 in Poland, the largest ex-communist EU country of 38 million people.

For the EU, the latest twist in feuds with the eurosceptic PiS also comes at a sensitive time.

The bloc – without the United Kingdom – last year achieved a major leap towards closer integration in agreeing joint debt guarantees to raise 750 billion euros for post-pandemic economic recovery projects, overcoming stiff resistance from some members such as the Netherlands.

Morawiecki has dismissed the idea of leaving the EU in a “Polexit”.

Support for membership remains very high in Poland, which has benefited enormously from funding coming from the bloc it joined in 2004.

But Poland – backed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban – wants to return powers to national governments and has lashed out at what it says are excessive powers of the Commission.

“Poland is one of the best European countries. There is no need for any sanctions, it’s ridiculous,” Orban said.

with DPA

The Fort News