Rising Poland-EU friction sees Berlin accused of turning EU into 'fourth reich'

·4-min read

Tensions between Brussels and Warsaw have reached new heights after the EU warned of legal action against Poland for ignoring European Union law and undermining its judicial independence. The move prompted a sharp rebuke from senior Polish figures who said the EU was turning into a Nazi-style "fourth reich."

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the EU was headed towards a type of bureaucratic centralism that needed to be stopped.

This week's events escalate a feud over Poland's perceived backsliding on EU democratic norms.

Earlier on, Deputy Justice Minister Marcin Romanowski echoed other Polish leaders when he said Germany was leading the EU towards a fourth reich, referring to the Nazi "Third Reich" under Adolf Hitler.

His public remarks follow widespread reports that ruling party leader Jarosław Kaczyński used exactly the same words at a private meeting with his MPs.

Morawiecki, and Justice Minister, Zbigiew Ziobro, have also in recent days warned that efforts are underway to turn the EU into a single, federal “superstate”.

The hardening of rhetoric comes with a worsening of relations over the supremacy of EU law over the Polish constitution. Poland's Constitutional Court ruled on October 7 that Brussels may not override Poland's top legislation.

Frustration

Brussels contests this, and on 22 December launched an "infringement procedure," arguing the Polish decision was a "breach of the general principles of ... union law and the binding effect of rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union."

Poland has two months to reply. In the event of no satisfactory reply, the matter could be sent to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

"Even the European Commission's patience has run out. Better late than never," tweeted influential Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt.

"The PiS (Law and Justice party) government is playing with Poland’s EU membership, against the welfare and wishes of an overwhelming majority of polish citizens."

Meanwhile, Brussels is withholding approval of coronavirus recovery funds for Poland. Warsaw had requested €23.9 billion in grants under the fund and €12.1 billion in loans.

Defiance

The ECJ has already ruled against Poland for implementing a mechanism to lift the immunity of judges in the Constitutional Court and to sack any not deemed acceptable by the parliament dominated by the PiS.

The European Commission is also upset over a 2019 Polish law that prevents Polish courts applying EU law in certain areas, and from referring legal questions to the ECJ.

The Poland-EU spat puts Brussels in an awkward position in its relationship with Russia.

Since 2008, Russia has become increasingly hostile towards the west, Nato declared on 3 April of that year in its Bucharest Declaration: that it "welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in Nato."

Four months later, Russia supported the breakaway Georgian republics South Ossetia and Abkhazia in an eight-day war against Georgia.

And in February 2014, after the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine lead to ouster of Russian-backed president Vladimir Yanukovich, Russian troops annexed Crimea.

A month later, they went on to support Donbass separatists in the west of Ukraine, leading to EU sanctions which hardened after Russia refused to take responsibility for the shooting down by separatists of the MH17 Malaysian Airlines flight over the Donbass region in July.

A former Warsaw Pact member, joined the EU in 2004 and has been a staunch supporter of the EU's criticism of Russia.

Five years before joining the bloc, Poland had already joined Nato, eager to escape from Moscow's control.

In 1939, the then Soviet Union had invaded Poland, then split the country with Nazi-Germany before putting it under its total control after the German defeat in 1945, making it the headquarters of the anti-Nato Warsaw Pact alliance in 1955.

After that, Moscow exerted repressive control over the population through the Polish United Workers' Party until it was dissolved in 1989.

Poland indispensable

According to the Poland page at the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Powers in Europe (Shape), Poland has since become an indispensable member of the alliance, taking part in operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia and Iraq.

Polish Armed Forces regularly contribute warships to Alliance's maritime operations in the Mediterranean and (on the rotational basis) MiG 29 Fulcrum fighters to carry out Air Policing over the Baltic States.

Poland's use of these Russian made warplanes to patrol former Soviet states-turned-Nato members must have particularly irritated Moscow.

Warsaw has also taken a hard line against Russia's Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which was designed by Moscow to circumvent Ukraine and deliver gas directly to the EU.

Washington has called Nord Stream 2 a "political weapon" deployed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to put pressure on the EU.

Poland's central position in Nato's European deployment may make it hard for Brussels to take a line that exceeds stern sounding warnings.

(With agencies)

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