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World Poland rule-of-law row to dominate EU summit

07:01  21 october  2021
07:01  21 october  2021 Source:   afp.com

European Law: The EU warns Poland, which denounces a "blackmail"

 European Law: The EU warns Poland, which denounces a © Ronald Wittek / Pool / AFP Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland, Europe, P Asse of arms between the European Union (EU and Poland. The European Commission notified Tuesday 19 October that it was going to act to defend the "common values" of the EU, in a Poland that has been in open conflict with Brussels for years. Prime Minister Polish, Mateusz Morawiecki, denounced a "blackmail" of the EU towards his country on the primacy of European law, while the Warsaw recovery plan is frozen by Brussels.

An explosive EU row with Poland over its rejection of some of the bloc's laws is set to overshadow a two-day summit of European Union leaders starting Thursday, officials said.

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen clashed in the European parliament this week © PASCAL ROSSIGNOL Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen clashed in the European parliament this week

The issue will eclipse the original theme for the Brussels gathering: examining how Europe can cope with the global energy crunch while sticking by ambitious green policies it will brandish at the COP26 climate summit in two weeks' time.

A demonstrator outside the Polish Constitutional Court in Warsaw on October 7, when it ruled that EU law can only apply in specific, circumscribed areas © Jaap Arriens A demonstrator outside the Polish Constitutional Court in Warsaw on October 7, when it ruled that EU law can only apply in specific, circumscribed areas

EU officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the rule-of-law issue is so "fundamental" that battle lines being drawn around it have the potential to split the 27-nation bloc.

Right of Law: Arms Pass Between Brussels and Warsaw in front of MEPs

 Right of Law: Arms Pass Between Brussels and Warsaw in front of MEPs © Pool / AFP L President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen , shrugged on Tuesday by threatening to sanction the Poland , accused of breaking with the founding principles of the EU, facing the Polish Prime Minister, inflexible, come to denounce a "blackmail" of Brussels in front of the MEPs at Strasbourg . "Do not try to flee or divert the debate. To undermine the rule of law or the rule of European law endanger our European democracy.

The high stakes involved were on display earlier this week when EU chief Ursula von der Leyen and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki duelled fiercely at a podium in the European Parliament.

The Polish and EU flags fly together outside the Polish embassy in Brussels but relations between the two are at a low © Kenzo Tribouillard The Polish and EU flags fly together outside the Polish embassy in Brussels but relations between the two are at a low

Von der Leyen warned her European Commission would use "all instruments at our disposal" to rein in Warsaw, while Mateusz shot back: "I will not have EU politicians blackmail Poland."

EU officials and diplomats said that the matter would now be discussed at the summit, alongside energy, Covid-19, Europe's transition to a digital and low-carbon future, migration, trade and external relations.

A European summit darkened by open conflict with Poland

 A European summit darkened by open conflict with Poland © Pool / AFP L e Open conflict between the European Union and Warsaw, which rejects the supremacy of European law, has established itself to the Summit Agenda Officers of the twenty-seven, gathered Thursday and Friday in Brussels. Leaders should discuss the outbreak of energy prices, the need to further increase VVID-19 vaccination, COP26 preparation and tensions with Belarus around migrants in particular.

Several EU officials insisted that there would be no ganging-up against Poland.

A German government official in Berlin said that dialogue would be prioritised because "it's not about making this summit a confrontation".

Germany and France were wary about the summit being bogged down in an intractable debate.


Video: Polish prime minister in testy EU exchange over rule of law (NBC News)

An official in the French presidency stressed, however, that Paris is in no way opposed to the issue being openly discussed, adding: "We have always been at the forefront on (defending) rule of law."

- Judges' independence -

Some EU officials said the real issue was that Poland had undertaken judicial reforms seen as removing independent judges and replacing them with ones beholden to the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS).

An October 7 ruling by Poland's Constitutional Court saying EU law could only apply in specific, circumscribed areas and Polish law trumped it in all other matters was being used to defend a dismantling of democracy, they said.

Donald Tusk on Twitter: "Poland's ruling party PIS is a problem for the whole EU"

 Donald Tusk on Twitter: in the dispute between the EU and Poland, the opposition candidate Tusk manifests itself in the network. He also criticized the reaction Marine Le Pens sharp. © Photo: Imago Images / Newspix / Damian Burzykowski The former EU Council President Donald Tusk expressed his displeasure towards the PIS party on Twitter. The former EU Council President and Polish opposition leader Donald Tusk criticized the role of the National Conservative PIS Government at the EU Summit.

Morawiecki has dug in by saying he believes Brussels is guilty of overstepping its authority, using the row as a "pretext" to force member states into line towards a more federal Europe.

He has rejected assertions by lawmakers in the European Parliament that his government's stance could lead to Poland's exit from the EU -- dubbed "Polexit".

The speaker of the parliament, David Sassoli, on Wednesday asked his legal service to prepare to sue the Commission unless it quickly uses a "conditionality" mechanism created late last year tying disbursements from the EU budget to adherence to rule of law.

But the Commission will not be rushed. It is meticulously gathering evidence in case the dispute ends up in the European Court of Justice (ECJ), where it has a high bar of burden of proof to show the EU budget was affected.

The ECJ is already weighing the legality of the conditionality mechanism itself. A reasoned opinion followed by the court's verdict is expected later this year or early 2022.

The legal challenge was launched by Poland and its close ally Hungary -- another EU country where Brussels says democracy and rule of law are under threat. Budapest and Warsaw have a pact to use their vetoes to shield the other from any attempt to punish them.

In the meantime, the Commission is blocking approval on Poland's request for 36 billion euros ($42 billion) in grants and loans from the EU's pandemic recovery fund.

The official at the French presidency said: "I don't see how we can validate their recovery plan. This isn't financial blackmail -- it's a response to fundamental principles, including judicial independence."

With tensions rising, there are efforts for key individual EU leaders to hold bilateral talks with Morawiecki just before they all lay the issue on the summit table.

Asked whether von der Leyen might get some face time with the Polish prime minister, a Commission spokesman said she knew of "no meeting that has been prepared".

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