Poland Risks Falling Out of EU, Warns Donald Tusk
Donald Tusk warned on Monday that the bitter feud between Warsaw and Brussels over the rule of law could lead to Poland stumbling out of the EU by accident. Speaking to reporters in Warsaw, the European Council president drew comparisons between the UK’s decision to leave the bloc and the frequent clashes between Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and the European Commission, and he urged Polish officials to “come to their senses”.
Mr Tusk, who served as Poland’s prime minister from 2007 to 2014, and has long been the arch-rival of PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said that even if Mr Kaczynski had no intention of taking Poland out of the EU, the UK’s exit showed that countries could also leave the bloc as a result of miscalculations. “For me it doesn’t matter whether Jaroslaw Kaczynski is planning an exit from the EU, or only initiates certain processes that result in this. I have experience with [UK] prime minister [David] Cameron. I worked with him day by day to avoid Brexit,” said Mr Tusk “He came up with the idea of a referendum and then did everything to keep Britain in the EU, but [in the end] he led [the UK] out . . . and I fear that in Europe the will to keep Poland in the EU by all means might be smaller than in the case of the UK . . . So the situation, in my opinion, is very, very serious.”
Polling data ranks Poland among the most pro-EU member states, and Mr Kaczynski’s PiS party has never suggested holding a referendum on membership of the bloc. Party leaders have always dismissed claims that they want to lead Poland out of the EU as a political ploy by the opposition.
However, since sweeping to power three years ago, PiS has found itself at loggerheads with Brussels on issues ranging from migration to logging, while senior figures have often attacked the bloc’s institutions. In September, President Andrzej Duda, who was supported by PiS in his bid for office, branded the bloc an “ imaginary community” from which Poland gained little.
The most serious clash with Brussels, however, has been over a series of fiercely contested judicial reforms that have, among other things, forced around a third of Polish Supreme Court judges into early retirement. PiS says the changes are necessary to purge an inefficient system that has not been adequately reformed since the collapse of communism. But critics say they undermine judicial independence and the EU’s top court last month ordered Poland to freeze the reform and reinstate the judges until it could issue a ruling on the matter.
PiS initially gave conflicting signals over whether or not it would abide by the ruling from the European Court of Justice. In recent days, senior officials have said they will fulfil the ECJ’s demands, but have yet to do so. The warning by Mr Tusk, who was in Warsaw to give evidence to a parliamentary commission, was the latest in a series of interventions that have fuelled speculation in Warsaw that he could seek to return to Polish politics after his term in Brussels expires, potentially as a candidate in presidential elections in 2020. However, when pressed on the matter by journalists, he declined to say whether or not he had any plans to do so.
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