30th Nov 2021

Poland vows not to give into EU 'blackmail' at summit

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Polish prime minister Mateusz Morewiecki said on Thursday (21 October) that Poland will not bow to EU "blackmail", but is open to dialogue with the EU Commission.

"We will not act under blackmail pressure attempts," the Polish PM said as he arrived at the EU summit in Brussels, where several leaders said they were concerned over Poland's recent court ruling that questioned the primacy of EU law.

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The discussion on rule of law at the EU summit is another step in the escalating legal and political battle between the nationalist Warsaw government led by the Law and Justice party (PiS), and EU institutions.

Poland has failed to adhere to several rulings by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), and the EU Commission has requested a fine on the country for not respecting decisions over dismantling a court chamber used to discipline judges.

Poland has been under an EU probe since 2017 for undermining the independence of judiciary. Warsaw argued it is reforming its judiciary to rid of it of any communist heritage.

An EU source described the debate as "serene", it lasted for more than two hours with all EU leaders speaking. Leaders agreed that the political dialogue is the way forward, with the possiblity of triggering different legal instruments if needed.

"We do respect the superiority of EU Law over national law in areas where this really should be the case," Morawiecki said before the meeting, arguing that "some EU institutions are appropriating rights" to decide on issues that they have no competencies over.

Morawiecki did not, however, address the issue of respecting ECJ rulings, a major concern for the commission and some other EU leaders.

"The main issue at stake here is the independence of the judiciary in Poland, and I think we need to discuss it tonight," Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte told reporters as he arrived at the summit.

"It is very difficult to see how a big, new fund of money coming out of this recovery discussion last year could be made available for Poland when this is not settled," he added, referring to the almost €60bn Covid-19 recovery funding available Poland.

The national plans of Poland and Hungary to unlock the EU's Covid-19 recovery funding have not been approved by the commission yet - because of concerns over the rule of law and corruption.

"This has to do with the foundations of our democracy in this part of the world, and this is not negotiable," Rutte added.

Irish worries

Irish prime minister Micheal Martin also said he wanted to raise his "deepest concern" at the debate.

"We are in Ireland are very concerned. […] We believe the primacy of EU law and the Court of Justice is critical for the protection of citizens all across Europe," he said.

Martin echoed several leaders who are worried about implications on the EU's single market if businesses and citizens feel that they are not covered by EU law in the entire bloc.

"We believe politically we have all made choices being fully part of the European family in sprit and letter, we are extremely disappointed with developments," the Irish PM added.

Morawiecki, on the other hand, was backed up by Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán.

"There is a witch hunt in Europe against Poland, but the truth is on Poland's side, so we will stand by them," Orbán said.

"There is no need for any sanctions, it's ridiculous," Orbán added.

Von der Leyen vows action against Poland

Ursula von der Leyen said the commission might use either an infringement procedure, an EU probe into the ruling, the new tool of conditionality which could lead to the suspension of EU funds, or the Article 7 sanctions procedure.

Poland questions EU legal primacy in court ruling

Poland's Constitutional Tribunal has ruled that parts of EU treaties were incompatible with the Polish constitution, in a major escalation of the rule-of-law dispute between Warsaw and Brussels.

Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing

Hungary was quizzed by EU ministers over its domestic crackdown on media, judges, academia and NGOs. Hungary's minister responded by saying the country had defended "the European way of life" for centuries, and it should be respected.


Poland vs EU - is a compromise possible?

To understand why Law and Justice believes its reforms are required, it is useful to look back at the collapse of communism in 1989. Did Poland consolidate liberal democracy after 1989?

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