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Polish PM lashes out at Ursula von der Leyen after she vowed to punish his country

The Polish Prime Minister has told Ursula von der Leyen ‘we will not be blackmailed’ after the Commission chief vowed to punish his country for challenging the supremacy of European law.

Mateusz Morawiecki clashed with von der Leyen in a fiery debate at the parliament in Strasbourg, telling her that Poland would not bow to ‘European centralism’ and that a country’s constitution was higher than any other law on the Continent. 

The PM’s robust speech prompted a cacophony of outrage to break out across the benches, while Polish ministers stood up to applaud after he finished. 

Von der Leyen said she was ‘deeply concerned’ amid fears in Europe that Poland’s legal challenge to the Bloc could prompt a ‘Polexit,’ and make it the next country to break away from the union after Britain in 2016.

The Commission chief said: ‘We cannot and will not allow our common values to be put at risk.’

Referring to the fall of Communism in Poland in 1989, she said: ‘The people of Poland wanted democracy … they wanted the freedom to choose their government, they wanted free speech and free media, they wanted an end to corruption and they wanted independent courts to protect their rights.’

‘This is what Europe is about and that is what Europe stands for,’ she added. ‘The recent ruling of the Polish Constitutional Court puts much of it into question.’ 

Von der Leyen said she was ‘deeply concerned’, adding that ‘we cannot and will not allow our common values to be put at risk’

Mateusz Morawiecki told the parliament in Strasbourg that Poland would not bow to 'European centralism' and that the constitution of a country was the highest law on the Continent

Mateusz Morawiecki told the parliament in Strasbourg that Poland would not bow to ‘European centralism’ and that the constitution of a country was the highest law on the Continent

Last week, the Polish Constitutional Court ruled that EU law was incompatible with aspects of the country’s constitution.

Morawiecki insisted that there was no reason why this should drive a wedge between Warsaw and Brussels, but maintained that he would not budge on the issue.

‘The EU will not fall apart simply because our legal systems will be different,’ he said, adding: ‘If you want to make a non-national superstate out of Europe, first get the consent of all the European states and societies.’

Meanwhile, he praised the ‘strong political and economical organism’ of the Bloc, showing the complex position his party is seeking to straddle as it grapples with Brussels, while up to 80 per cent of Poles back being part of the EU. 

Morawiecki’s right-wing PiS-led government has increasingly gone head-to-head with the EU on a range of issues, from judicial reform to media freedom and LGBT rights. 

Von der Leyen warned that Poland’s constitutional ruling ‘is a direct challenge to the unity of the European legal order.’

She said a first option is so-called infringements, where the Commission legally challenges the Polish court’s judgment, which could lead to fines.

Another option is a conditionality mechanism and other financial tools whereby EU funds would be withheld from Poland.

Until Warsaw’s clash with Brussels is resolved, it is unlikely to see any of the 23.9 billion euros in grants and 12.1 billion in cheap loans that it applied for as part of the EU’s recovery fund after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The EU could even block Polish access to EU grants for development and structural projects in the 2021-2027 budget worth around 70 billion euros.

Von der Leyen said a third option is the application of Article 7 of the EU’s treaties. Under this, rights of member states – including the right to vote on EU decisions – can be suspended because they have breached core values of the bloc. 

Earlier this month, Poland's Constitutional Court (pictured) ruled that EU treaties were incompatible with the Polish constitution, putting Warsaw and Brussels on a full collision course

Earlier this month, Poland’s Constitutional Court (pictured) ruled that EU treaties were incompatible with the Polish constitution, putting Warsaw and Brussels on a full collision course

Morawiecki, speaking after her in the EU assembly, accused the bloc of overstepping its authority.

‘EU competencies have clear boundaries, we must not remain silent when those boundaries are breached. So we are saying yes to European universalism, but we say no to European centralism,’ he said.

A succession of members of the parliament then stood up to castigate the Polish leader, while some EU ministers gathering for a meeting in Luxembourg joined the chorus of criticism.  

Morawiecki ended up running over his allotted speaking time, prompting warnings from Parliament Vice President Pedro Silva Pereira.

‘You will take note that I was extremely flexible with the allocated time so that nobody can say that you didn’t have time enough to give explanations to the European Parliament,’ Pereira told the PM. 

‘But respect of the allocated time is also a way of showing respect for this house of the European democracy.’ 


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