Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, has clashed with the European Commission president and MEPs after accusing EU institutions of seeking to turn the country into a province, in an escalation of the battle between Warsaw and Brussels over the rule of law.
During a heated debate in the European parliament in Strasbourg, where parallels between the Polish situation and Brexit were raised repeatedly by MEPs, Morawiecki claimed the European court of justice (ECJ) was responsible for a “creeping revolution” undermining Poland’s sovereignty.
He further accused unnamed “EU politicians” of seeking to blackmail his government into acceding to a “central power”, in reference to calls to cut Poland’s funding from Brussels over the recent ruling by the country’s constitutional court that key parts of EU law were incompatible with the Polish constitution.
The development has been portrayed as a back door “Polexit” by commentators and some senior politicians, including France’s EU affairs minister, Clément Beaune.
Morawiecki said his government would not act in defiance of the constitutional court, as he challenged the EU’s institutions to put a vision of the union as a sovereign state to the people. He condemned talk of Poland’s legal exit from the EU as “lies”.
“Were we to agree to the central principle it would mean that the EU ceases to be an association of sovereign states and by fait accompli, the EU is transferred into a centrally governed European state where European institutions can force the so-called provinces to do as the central power wants. This is not what we agreed in the treaties,” Morawiecki said.
“What is needed is a sovereign decision about sovereign decisions by sovereign member states. So now what we can do is we can agree to all attempts to limit the sovereignty of Poland and we can agree to the creeping expansion of the competences of the European court of law – what we are seeing now is a creeping revolution taking place by way of verdicts of the European court of justice – or we can say no. If you want a supranational state in Europe, why don’t you ask and get consent from all the sovereign member states.”
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party and the European Commission, backed by the European parliament, have been in a constant battle for the last five years over changes to the country’s judiciary, which it is claimed undermine their independence.
The ECJ recently said that a new procedure for the appointment of members of Poland’s Supreme Court amounted to a violation of EU law.
The issue has come to a head with the ruling this month by Poland’s top court that basic articles of the bloc’s treaties, including that member states would take “appropriate measures” to fulfil their obligations under EU law, were not binding.
Ursula von der Leyen, the commission president, who spoke before Morawiecki in debate on Tuesday morning, said she was “deeply concerned” that the Polish court’s judgment had put the future of the EU as a community of member states under common law in question.
She said: “We have been concerned about the independence of the judiciary for some time. Judges have seen their immunity being lifted, and have been driven out of office without justification.
“And this threatens judicial independence, which is a basic pillar of the rule of law. We have taken a number of measures. We continue to have a regular dialogue. But unfortunately, the situation has worsened. And this is not only the commission’s opinion. This is what has been confirmed by the European court of justice and the European court of human rights. And now this has culminated in the most recent ruling of the Polish constitutional court.”
Von der Leyen said the commission had various options including leveraging a new “conditionality mechanism and other financial tools” to cut funding from Brussels through the EU budget and pandemic recovery fund.
Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, was among a number of MEPs who accused the Polish government of using the language of the Brexiters in the UK.
The parliament will vote on a resolution on Thursday that “deeply deplores the decision of the illegitimate ‘constitutional tribunal’ of 7 October 2021 as an attack on the European community of values and laws as a whole”.
It will further commend the “tens of thousands of Polish citizens for taking to the streets in peaceful mass protests, fighting for their rights and freedoms as European citizens”.
Terry Reintke, a German Green MEP, addressing Morawiecki, sitting to her left, accused the prime minister of acting like the Russian president Vladimir Putin in seeking to destabilise the EU. She said: “The majority of the Polish citizens disagree with you – they want to live in a strong Poland in a strong European Union.”
Morawiecki responded with a jibe against Germany’s government for allowing the construction of Nord Stream 2, quoting a politician who had described it as a “modern day Molotov-Ribbentrop pact”, in reference to the pre-war agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union.
Von der Leyen, a former German defence minister, responded: “With coming with Nord Stream 2, your arguments are not getting better, you are just escaping the debate.”