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23rd Mar 2019

Polish government preparing EU rift, Tusk warns

  • Tusk at the G20 summit in Germany last month (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

European Council president and former Polish leader Donald Tusk has said the Polish government is preparing to put his native country’s EU membership into question.

Tusk spoke outside the Polish prosecutor’s office on Thursday (3 August) in Warsaw where he spent eight hours answering questions about his role in the 2010 Smolensk air disaster.

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  • Smolensk air disaster killed Lech Kaczynski and 95 others (Photo: Piotr Pawlowski)

The probe is widely seen as an attempt by the ruling Law and Justice party to blacken his name.

But Tusk highlighted the fact that Law and Justice has ignored an EU court order to stop logging in the primeval Bialowierza forest.

"There is a question mark over Poland's European future today," he said.

“The fact that a European tribunal decision is rejected so arrogantly is evidence of something very dangerous in my opinion - it is an overt attempt to put Poland in conflict with the European Union,” he went on.

“It smells like an introduction to an announcement that Poland does not need the European Union and that Poland is not needed for the EU,” Tusk said.

“I’m afraid we are closer to that moment,” he said.

He said Law and Justice had gone so far in its conflict with the EU institutions that even its regional ally, Hungary, had begun to distance itself from Poland in the EU Council.

“There are several issues where the behaviour of the Polish government appears to be very controversial … This is how the whole EU sees it and that sometimes even includes Budapest. Yes, I mean it,” Tusk said.

The European Commission has threatened to push for sanctions against Poland over Law and Justice’s meddling in the judiciary and over the logging controversy.

The measures could see its voting rights in the EU Council suspended in what would be an unprecedented step in EU history.

The Commission has separately started preparations to fine Poland for its refusal to honour an EU Council vote on sharing asylum seekers with Greece and Italy.

Law and Justice is also preparing to file World War II reparation claims against Germany, in what would open a new front in its clash with the EU establishment.

The Smolensk probe comes amid allegations by Law and Justice party chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski that Tusk colluded with Russia in the air disaster that killed his twin brother and then Polish president Lech Kaczynski as well as 95 senior officials.

Plenty to fear

Jaroslaw Kaczynski recently told Polish media that he had told German chancellor Angela Merkel that Tusk had “plenty to fear” from the Smolensk investigation.

He also told Tusk’s Civic Platform party in parliament not to “wipe your treacherous mouths with my late brother's name. You destroyed him, you murdered him”.

Tusk, who appeared as a witness on Thursday, said he did not rule out that the “finale” of the probe would see him become a suspect.

“Mr. Kaczynski doesn’t frighten me,” Tusk said.

He said the Polish judicial reforms, which would give Law and Justice control over appointments in the supreme court and in lower courts, were designed to use the Polish judicial system “as a tool against the opposition. And indeed against people they don’t like”.

“I’m afraid I belong to this bunch,” he said.

Roman Giertych, a Tusk plenipotentiary, said Kaczynski’s words to Merkel on “plenty to fear” indicated that he was already meddling in the judicial process by getting privileged information from the prosecutor’s office.

Tusk’s mandate

Tusk, whose EU Council job expires in 2019, declined to say if he would run in the next Polish elections.

"I have over two years of work in Brussels,” he said in Warsaw on Thursday.

“I’m not able to answer that today, but everything is possible. For the moment, I don’t plan it,” he said.

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