Poland’s prime minister has accused the EU of making demands of Warsaw with a “gun to our head”, urging Brussels to withdraw threats of legal and financial sanctions if it wanted to resolve the country’s rule of law crisis.
In a move to ease tensions in the long-running dispute, which has raised fears of a Polish exit from the EU, Mateusz Morawiecki promised to dismantle a disciplinary chamber for judges that the European Court of Justice found to be illegal by the end of the year.
But he warned that if the European Commission “starts the third world war” by withholding promised cash to Warsaw, he would “defend our rights with any weapons which are at our disposal”.
The commission has threatened Poland with sanctions after the country’s top court this month ruled that key elements of EU law were incompatible with its constitution.
The ruling marked a major escalation of a legal battle over changes to Poland’s court system that Morawiecki’s ruling Law and Justice party says are necessary to increase efficiency. Brussels says they threaten judicial independence and the fundamental legal bonds that hold the EU together.
The stand-off has already delayed approval of Poland’s €36bn Covid-19 economic recovery package from Brussels. Some member states and parts of the commission have also called for a new conditionality mechanism that could threaten tens of billions of euros in annual EU funds paid to Warsaw.
Morawiecki said any move to reduce “cohesion funds” would be met with strong retaliation. He was speaking to the Financial Times after a week in which he held multiple meetings with commission president Ursula von der Leyen and participated in a two-day summit with his fellow EU leaders that included a debate on the Polish crisis.
“What is going to happen if the European Commission will start the third world war? If they start the third world war, we are going to defend our rights with any weapons which are at our disposal,” he said when asked if Poland could veto critical decisions on legislation such as the EU’s landmark climate package.
“[But] if someone will attack us in a completely unfair way, we will defend ourselves in any possible manner,” he added. “We feel that this is an already discriminatory and a diktat type of approach [from Brussels]. But if this is going to be even worse, we will have to think through our strategy.”
Morawiecki said that talks with EU leaders including Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron and von der Leyen, in which he laid out Warsaw’s central argument that the EU was overstepping its legal competences, were “very satisfying”.
But he said that if the commission wanted to find a compromise, it must reverse its September decision to seek daily fines against Warsaw until it implements a number of ECJ rulings related to its judicial reform.
“Fortunately this is a political process. And political processes can be stopped by politicians,” Morawiecki said. “This would be the wisest thing they can do. Because then we are not talking to each other with a gun to our head. This very situation creates a relative lack of our appetite for any further actions.”
However, Morawiecki said that legislation to dissolve the controversial disciplinary chamber was nearing completion.
“We are now in the process of finalising the details of this legislation, and gathering a majority for this,” he added. “The legislation is being cooked, and over the next weeks, I believe until the end of the year at the latest, we will present this legislation and go forward with the procedure.”
Morawiecki also said that the commission was in breach of EU law by not approving or rejecting the country’s Covid-19 recovery package, and said Warsaw was prepared to wait for its disbursement.
“We will get this money sooner or later,” he said. “The later we get it, the stronger the proof that there is this discrimination treatment and diktat type of approach from the European Commission.”
Some member states have demanded that the commission delay the approval of the recovery package, which Poland submitted at the beginning of May, because of the rule of law stand-off. The commission is meant to perform its evaluation within two months of its submission.
“This money should have already been paid. This is a breach of procedure by the commission,” Morawiecki said. “They are in breach of rule of law.
“We are not going to surrender, we are not going to relinquish our sovereignty because of this pressure,” he said, adding that Poland was already borrowing from private markets to fund its post-pandemic investment plans. “We will survive until the moment when we get the [EU] money.”
The commission declined to comment.
Morawiecki dismissed fears that the stand-off could provoke a public campaign that would see Poland — once the EU’s poster child for eastern expansion — leave the bloc.
“Eighty eight per cent of Poles want to stay in the EU, half of them are our [party’s] voters,” he said. “We are absolutely convinced that Poland has to stay . . . There are no risks of Polexit. We will fiercely defend Poland as part of the European Union.”