Wednesday

11th Dec 2019

EU relations hit Polish election debate

Polish prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski on Monday (1 October) defended his EU record in a pre-election TV debate, saying the past two years of scrapping in Brussels have earned Warsaw "respect."

"In these two years we've achieved a lot - a ten year extension of Nice, the Ioannina compromise, solidarity in the face of Russia and energy security," he said. "We've gained respect, the status of a country that has to be reckoned with."

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  • Kaczynski (l) - claims Poland has earned respect in Brussels (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

His comments refer to Poland's battle to keep pro-Polish EU voting rules (the Nice system) until 2017 and to give small groups of countries the legal right to delay EU decisions for up to two years (the so-called Ioannina mechanism).

Mr Kaczynski's push almost derailed a June meeting of EU leaders. And the Ioannina argument threatens to rumble on during the 18 October EU meeting in Lisbon, which aims to finalise Europe's new "Reform Treaty."

Warsaw is also vetoing a new EU pact with Russia ahead of the 26 October EU-Russia summit, saying Moscow is trying to split the union by imposing an unfounded ban on Polish meat exports.

"You make fun of sausages," Mr Kaczynski told his interlocutor, former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski, in Monday's discussion on the TVP channel. "But it was never about sausages. It was about Poland's status in Europe. When I talked about this with [European Commission] president Barroso, he understood."

The prime minister said that despite media "stereotypes" he has "good relations with virtually all the EU states," especially France, the UK, Germany and Spain.

EU 'catastrophe'?

But EU voting and Russia are just the noisiest in a long list of Polish disputes with Brussels since Mr Kaczynski's rightist Law and Justice party came to power in 2005.

Warsaw has also brandished its veto over VAT reforms, prisoner transfer schemes and anti-death penalty days, while Kaczynski envoys have annoyed EU colleagues by bringing a brusque, confrontational style to the diplomatic table.

The government's alleged foreign policy failures have become a hot topic ahead of Polish elections on 21 October, with opposition groups accusing Mr Kaczynski of poisoning relations with Brussels, Moscow and Berlin.

"If you look at our diplomacy in the EU, it's the biggest catastrophe one could imagine. It has pushed us to the edge of Europe," Mr Kwasniewski, who led Poland when it joined the EU back in 2004, said.

"Polish politics must return to dialogue, conversation and rebuilding our European role," he added. "You don't even know how much we've lost (…)."

Kaczynski still popular

The early Polish elections were called after the government's coalition with fringe nationalist and leftist parties, the League of Polish Families and Self-Defence, fell apart last month over a corruption scandal.

Law and Justice leads in the latest polls published by Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, with 35 percent support. The conservative, pro-European Civic Platform party has 32 percent and Mr Kwasniewski's Left and Democrats (LiD) faction has 17 percent.

Civic Platform has renewed talk of a grand coalition with Law and Justice in recent days, but the other scenario - a Civic Platform-LiD government opposed by the isolated but powerful Kaczynski bloc - is also a possibility.

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