We’ll play ‘dirty Remainer’ and stir up trouble if EU does not stop overreach, warns Poland

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Prof Ryszard Legutko, of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, said party officials were planning potential responses to threats to withhold tens of billions of euros in EU funding - Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Prof Ryszard Legutko, of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, said party officials were planning potential responses to threats to withhold tens of billions of euros in EU funding - Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Poland could adopt a “dirty Remainer” strategy and bring the European Union’s policy machine to a grinding halt in retaliation for any move to punish Warsaw in the row over the primacy of EU law, according to a senior member of the country’s ruling party.

In the latest twist in a long-running spat between Brussels and Warsaw over the rule of law, the move could see the bloc’s drive to become carbon neutral by 2050 brought to its knees.

Prof Ryszard Legutko, who leads the ruling Law and Justice party’s delegation in the European Parliament, said his bosses in Warsaw were planning potential responses to threats to withhold tens of billions of euros in EU funding.

The Polish government has been at loggerheads with the European Commission for five years over a number of controversial judicial reforms, including a disciplinary chamber for judges that do not toe the party line.

However, the EU was tipped over the edge when the country’s top court ruled last month its national laws are supreme to the bloc’s.

At a summit of European leaders in Brussels this week, Poland was warned that almost €60 billion (£51 billion) in EU funds were at stake if the country refused to fall in line with the EU’s democratic standards, in a genuine escalation of the bitter dispute.

However, heads of state and government left an opening for Warsaw to back down, when they only piled pressure on the European Commission to use its powers to bring the country’s nationalist government into line, rather than initiating the punishment themselves.

Prof Legutko said the revelation raised the prospect Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, triggering the bloc’s “conditionality mechanism” and his country losing out on almost €60 billion in funding as a result.

“It seems that the Council managed to preserve a degree of common sense. We’ll have to see what the Commission will do,” he told The Telegraph. “The President of the Commission has been acting rather strangely”.

Mrs von der Leyen has become overly “aggressive” and is incorrectly claiming that the ruling of Poland’s top court, which said key parts of EU law are not compatible with the national constitution, is a sufficient excuse to withhold funds, Prof Legutko added.

He questioned whether the Commission leader will side with the European Parliament, which is calling for the harshest treatment, or member states, who are more committed to further political dialogue, after Angela Merkel, the departing German chancellor, talked them down from a hardline position.

Meanwhile, the Polish government appears keen to press ahead with overhaul of the country’s judicial system despite the fury in Brussels and the threat to the flow of a lucrative and essential supply of EU funds already generated by previous changes.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the Law and Justice party, said this month that documents on changes to the judicial system ‘are already prepared’ - Radek Pietruszka/EPA-EFE/REX
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the Law and Justice party, said this month that documents on changes to the judicial system ‘are already prepared’ - Radek Pietruszka/EPA-EFE/REX

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the Law and Justice party, said this month that documents on changes to the judicial system “are already prepared”. Although he failed to provide details on just what the documents contained, he said they were “a large undertaking”.

The reforms are likely further to frustrate the EU, whose leaders have accused Warsaw of undermining judicial independence, and could possibly accelerate any disciplinary procedures.

But in the event that Brussels does launch a punitive strike against Warsaw, Prof Legutko insisted his government would strike back.

“The Polish government has several options,” he said. “It can sue the European Commission, though I wouldn’t recommend it because I do not trust the European Court of Justice [ECJ]. It is clear the ECJ is supporting the strategy of the centralisation of Europe, so it has its own political agenda, it’s not an impartial court.

“Or the Polish government can… there are other instruments like voting in the Council, the questions that are to be decided by consensus.”

Mrs von der Leyen has signalled she will take her time before deciding whether to punish Warsaw, saying: “We have a long road ahead of us.”

One possible target is the EU’s climate rules, which are being tweaked constantly to help the bloc reach its net zero target by 2050.

‘Anxious’ reaction to possible changes

Poland already has a long-running history in stifling policy decisions in this area, and once forced the bloc to adopt a statement without its signature because of concerns the EU’s green policies are geared towards richer states.

“One word: anxious,” said Malgorzata Szulecka, a lawyer from the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights, on her reaction to the prospect of more changes. She added that the government might be considering playing with a controversial disciplinary panel for judges that the European Court of Human Rights has called to be shut down because of an alleged lack of independence.

She added: “I’m concerned that any changes will not be in accordance with international standards or whether they will be just window dressing, so at the end of the road, cases against judges will still not be heard by an independent body.”

“I think the key priority here for the government is to muddy the waters, to make such a legal mess so that it, using the back door, can legalise the judges appointed by the national judicial council,” said Ms Szulecka, referring to a council that some say has been stuffed by the government with political appointees.

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