Polish Coalition Shows Cracks on EU Budget Veto as Summit Nears

Poland’s coalition government is showing fissures over its decision to block the European Union’s $2.2 trillion spending plan, with a junior coalition partner repeating a stance that puts him at odds with the shot-calling ruling party.

The stakes are high for Poland and fellow eastern EU member Hungary. Their opposition to tying the bloc’s budget and coronavirus rescue plan to upholding democratic standards puts them at risk of losing out on tens of billions euros in development funds.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is standing by his threat of vetoing the EU’s budget and virus recovery package, telling a newspaper on Monday that even if funds are cut, Poland won’t suffer due to state investment programs. His deputy, Jaroslaw Gowin, whose political faction is vital the ruling Law & Justice Party’s parliamentary majority, warned of trouble if the country is left out.

“Of course, we can use veto as the nuclear option, but Poland would also be hurt,” Gowin told the Se.pl website. “It’s noble to die for Poland but it’s not wise.”

The division shows continued reluctance among people around the power centers of both Poland and Hungary to carry out the veto before EU leaders meet on the issue in a summit slated for Thursday.

On Sunday, the pro-EU and liberal-leaning mayors of Warsaw and Budapest announced they’d send a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to appeal for local authorities to have access to funding even if the national administrations reject the package.

EU funding has been a main driver of economic growth and rising living standards in Poland, Hungary and other ex-communist members since they joined the EU in 2004. Already under EU probes for undermining the rule of law, the two countries could miss out on a combined 180 billion euro ($218 billion) from the multi-year budget and relief aid.

Morawiecki and his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, have been ratcheting up anti-EU sentiment ahead of the summit. They argue that the plan to withhold funds from EU members that are seen as undermining the rule of law violates the 27-member bloc’s treaties.

Net contributors to the EU spending plan such as The Netherlands say they can’t abide by funds being used to fund corruption by governments that have reworked their constitutions, courts and other institutions to benefit their circles and keep them in power.

After visiting Brussels last week, Gowin said a compromise is within reach, though the situation requires “maximum responsibility” from the ruling coalition. Morawiecki reiterated Friday that Poland stands alongside Hungary in planning to veto the spending plan if the new rule-of-law mechanism remains in its current form.

Gowin’s party, a moderate wing of the ruling Law & Justice party’s parliamentary caucus, has a history of opposing the government and eventually caving in. In May, Gowin quit the cabinet over plans to hold a presidential election during the pandemic using an untested and risky voting system. The vote was held later in the summer and by October, he returned to the post of deputy prime minister.

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