Wednesday

24th Jan 2018

Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap

  • Morawiecki at his EU debut in Brussels on Thursday (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Poland's new prime minister has indicated he will stay on collision course with the EU over his country's controversial judicial reforms.

The European Commission had warned Warsaw that if Poland, this week, approved two laws giving the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party control over judicial appointments, then it would, next week, trigger a sanctions procedure.

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  • English speaker and former banker is a more EU-friendly face of PiS (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

But the new Polish PM, Mateusz Morawiecki, speaking at his first EU summit in Brussels on Thursday (14 December), showed no sign of backing down.

"If a process has started and, as far as I understand, the decision has already been made that next Wednesday the European Commission plans to start [the procedure], then it will most likely be triggered," he said.

"From the start of such an unfair procedure for us, until it ends, we will certainly talk to our partners," he said.

He said the Polish judiciary had to be purged of former Communist stooges the same way France and Spain had had to purge former members of the Vichy and Franco regimes.

"Europe should be a Europe of sovereign states who should have the right to reform their justice systems," he said.

An EU official told EUobserver the commission was ready to launch the sanction procedure under article 7.1 of the EU treaty next Wednesday if the Polish judicial laws were enacted by the president.

The process would begin with a formal warning that Poland was in breach of EU values.

It could lead to suspension of Poland's voting rights in the EU Council, but Poland's EU allies, such as Hungary and the Czech Republic, would be likely to veto such a step.

New face

Morawiecki, a 49-year old former banker who speaks English and German, took up his post earlier this week, giving PiS a more EU-friendly face.

He said on Thursday, in one pro-EU concession, that Poland would respect the ruling of the EU court on logging in a primeval forest.

"We will respect the verdict of the EU tribunal," he said.

He defended free speech, saying "even if they're biased, very biased, we fully support the rights of free media to keep on functioning".

But he did not see anything wrong in the fact a Polish media regulator, the KRRiT, recently fined a private TV station for its coverage of anti-PiS protests.

Morawiecki said the KRRiT "is not under the government's authority, it has autonomy" and that the TV station could challenge the fine in court. "We're a free country and this case will quickly be clarified," he said.

He also endorsed Poland's earlier decision to boycott an EU migrant-sharing scheme.

He said he was "happy that the head of the EU Council now speaks with the same voice as the Polish government had used" on migrants.

Same voice?

Morawiecki was referring to criticism of the EU migrant quotas by Donald Tusk, the Council president and a former Polish leader.

But Tusk later the same day distanced himself from PiS on the issue.

"I will never go over to the side of those who talk about other people with contempt or disrespect," Tusk said, referring to PiS verbal attacks on asylum seekers as being potential disease-carriers and terrorists.

"I hope we will see a moment in which Poland will be treated again as the heart of Europe," Tusk added.

"[But] so far I have not seen the least desire for cooperation from the government," he said.

Morawiecki met British PM Theresa May on Thursday to talk about the fate of Polish citizens in the UK after Brexit.

He also met French leader Emmanuel Macron on Friday morning to discuss the rights of Polish truckers to work in France on low pay.

The Polish PM told Macron he wanted to maintain dialogue with the commission, while Macron said it was "important" to talk with Frans Timmermans, the EU commissioner in charge of the Polish rule of law case, according to sources.

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MEPs urged Poland to comply with the EU treaties and to halt the 'reform' of the judiciary that could further undermine the rule of law in the country. Polish PM Beata Szydlo called the vote 'outrageous'.

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