European Leaders Attacked Poland at a Summit in Brussels
European leaders lined up sharply to criticize Warsaw on Thursday for challenging the EU's legal basis, but Poland's prime minister said he would not succumb to "blackmail" before joining the 27-nation bloc's summit, reports Reuters.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said he is ready to resolve disputes with Brussels, although many worry that the ideological rift between Eastern and Western Europe poses an existential threat to the EU itself. "A few days ago, the legal basis of our union was challenged," European Parliament President David Sasoli said in a letter as leaders gathered in Brussels for their summit. "It was not the first time, of course, nor will it be the last. But never before has the Union been called into question so radically," he said.
Continued tensions between Poland's ruling nationalists and the bloc's liberal majority have risen since Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled this month that elements of EU law are incompatible with the country's constitution, challenging the central principle of EU integration. The dispute not only risks causing a new fundamental crisis for the bloc, which is still struggling with the effects of Brexit. This could deprive Poland of generous EU aid. "Some European institutions are appropriating the right to decide issues that are not within their competence," Morawiecki said before entering the negotiations, which come two days after the European Commission's executive threatened to take action against Warsaw. "We will not succumb to blackmail ... but, of course, we will talk about how to resolve the current disputes in dialogue."
Western countries are primarily seeking to prevent their governments' monetary contributions to the EU in favor of socially conservative politicians, who they say are undermining the human rights enshrined in European law. "If you want to have the advantage of being in a club ... then you have to follow the rules," said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Cru. "You can't be a member of a club and say, 'The rules don't apply to me.' Leaders of countries such as Ireland and France have called on Warsaw to return to the ranks. Speaking about judicial reform in Poland, which puts its courts under greater government control, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it was difficult to see how new EU funding could be channeled to the Eastern European country, adding: "We must be firm'.
Moravecki's Law and Justice Party (PiS) has raised its stakes in years of growing hostility to the EU on a range of democratic principles, from freedom of the courts and the media to the rights of women, migrants and LGBT+ people. The Commission has so far prevented Warsaw from using € 57 billion from the COVID-19 pandemic recovery fund. The EU Supreme Court could also impose more fines on Poland, the EU's largest former communist country with a population of 38 million. For the bloc, the latest turnaround in hostilities with PiS also comes at a sensitive time. Last year, the EU made the leap towards closer integration by agreeing on joint loans to raise € 750 billion for economic recovery after the pandemic, overcoming strong resistance from wealthy Nordic countries. Morawiecki rejected the idea of Polexit - leaving the bloc - and popular support for membership remains very high in Poland, which has benefited greatly from EU funding since joining in 2004. But Warsaw, backed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, wants to return the powers of the national capitals and attack what it considers to be the excessive powers of the European Commission. "Poland is one of the best European countries. There is no need for any sanctions, that's ridiculous," Orban said.
As many become increasingly frustrated by failed attempts to persuade Warsaw to change course, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned against isolating Poland. "We need to find ways to get back together," she said, adding that bringing many cases against Poland to the European Court of Justice was not a solution. However, her influence has waned as the veteran of more than 100 summits in her 16 years in power visits Brussels for what could be her last reunion with European leaders before handing over the baton to a new German chancellor.
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