Poland Escalates Rule-of-Law Dispute, Risking EU Funding
(Bloomberg) -- Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki escalated a rule-of-law dispute with the European Union, accusing the bloc of overstepping its authority.
In an address to European lawmakers in Strasbourg, Morawiecki said the European Commission was using “financial blackmail” in delaying Warsaw’s request for 36 billion euros ($42 billion) in stimulus funds. He also said that the European Court of Justice was conducting a “silent revolution” with its verdicts, which he said undermine sovereign rule in member states.
“I reject the language of threats, hazing and coercion,” Morawiecki said on Tuesday. “I do not agree to politicians blackmailing and threatening Poland. I do not agree blackmail to become a method of conducting policy towards a member state. That’s not how democracies do things.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reacted angrily to Morawiecki’s statements and chastised him for changing the subject in an effort “to run away and escape the debate.”
She told lawmakers that the court reforms in Poland call “into question the foundations of the EU” and would “take an ax to the European treaties by undermining their legitimacy.”
“That is what is at stake here,” she said. “That is what we’re talking about.”
She said the commission is looking at all options to react against the verdict including infringement procedures, withholding stimulus funds earmarked for Poland and suspending certain rights enjoyed by member states.
“The rule of law is the glue that binds our union together,” von der Leyen said. “We cannot and will not allow our common values to be put at risk.”
Morawiecki defended the court ruling in a letter he sent to EU leaders on Monday, saying that Poland is ready for a dialog on the rule of law. But he warned that the country wants its sovereignty respected and financial coercion would backfire and undermine the entire EU. The bloc’s leaders will meet in Brussels on Thursday and the issue will likely be raised.
He added that criticism of Poland is a pretext to ask things of member states that aren’t in the treaties. “If you want to make Europe a non-nation super-state, you must first get the approval of all EU nations and societies,” he said.
The European Parliament has been pushing the commission to take a hard line against Poland after the nationalist government spent months ignoring the European Court of Justice’s order to reverse controversial changes to the judiciary that critics say is meant to silence opposition to the nation’s ruling Law and Justice party.
“What the Polish government is doing is an attack on the very existence of the European Union itself,” Ska Keller, president of the Greens/EFA Group, said in a statement. “The commission must launch infringement procedures against the government of Poland and launch financial sanctions.”
Whether Morawiecki succeeds in placating Brussels is key to Poland’s bid to ensure that it continues receiving the bloc’s financial support. The commission may trigger a new tool as soon as this week, which allows it to withhold budget payments to member states that fail to adhere to the bloc’s democratic standards, EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders told Bloomberg last week.
The country is already facing a delay in the approval of its share of the bloc’s pandemic aid and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told his government last week that he’ll ask the EU to withhold the money earmarked for the bloc’s largest eastern member.
“There must be always space for dialog, but dialog while we respect each others’ voices,” Vera Jourova, the EU’s vice president in charge of values, told reporters after the debate, adding: “the space for dialog is narrowing.”
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