EU will keep sending Poland cash despite rule of law breaches, country's populist prime minister predicts

Jon Stone
Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki: AFP via Getty Images

EU leaders will not follow through on threats to withhold cash payments to countries that breach the rule of law, Poland's prime minister has confidently predicted.

Mateusz Morawiecki, whose right-wing populist Law and Justice party governs the country, said Poland had previously been "left on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain" and so needed extra EU resources to adjust.

It comes as the European Parliament last week warned that the rule of law situation in Poland has "deteriorated" in recent months, amid accusations that the ruling party is politicising the judiciary.

Some EU leaders and MEPs have said future funding should be made conditional on upholding democratic values and not undermining the rule of law, and the issue is being considered in early negotiations for the next EU budget.

Poland is the biggest net beneficiary of the EU's spending, receiving billions in cohesion and other funds a year. Last week Brussels also announced a new green fund which would pay Poland and other states to shut down their coal power plants.

But the European Commission has warned that the Polish government's changes to the judicial system, notably the appointment and retirement of top judges, pose a ”clear risk of a serious breach by a member state of the values" of the EU.

The country's government has pushed ahead with the plan despite warnings from Brussels, which has invoked "Article 7" of the EU's treaties to potentially impose diplomatic sanctions on the administration.

But the process has been slow and little has happened, despite the European Court of Justice saying the reforms were unlawful.

Asked in an interview with broadcaster CNBC whether he thought EU cash payments to Poland would be linked to upholding the rule of law and democratic values, Mr Morawiecki said: "No, I don’t think so. I really think that more and more leaders understand that there is a need to reform the judiciary system in Poland."

He dismissed protests over the changes, telling the broadcaster: "I disagree with unequal treatment of member states of the European Union. There are manifestations, demonstrations, on the streets of other capital cities, in 200,000, 500,000 people.

"In Poland, there is 5,000, maybe 7,000. Is this really a big demonstration? It’s a free country, and everybody can demonstrate what they want."

A resolution passed by the European Parliament adopted by a large margin last week said the lack of action against Poland, as well as the far-right government in Hungary, "continues to undermine the integrity of common European values, mutual trust and the credibility of the European Union as a whole".

Arguing in favour of tying EU funds to rule of law last year, then Finnish prime minister Antti Rinne said: “The aim is not to nail any single member state on the wall, but it’s about how to defend ordinary European people from the despotism of not abiding by the rule-of-law principles."

Law and Justice won an increased share of the vote in elections last year, its popularity apparently undented despite criticism from abroad.

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