Thursday 18 January 2018

Poland dismisses criticism from EU as non-binding

Polish President Andrzej Duda meets EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini in Warsaw, Poland (AP)
Polish President Andrzej Duda meets EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini in Warsaw, Poland (AP)

The Polish government has dismissed a critical assessment of its first months in office from the European Union, arguing that the criticisms are unauthorised and non-binding.

A day after the European Commission criticised some of the conservative government's recent moves, which have paralysed the country's Constitutional Tribunal and triggered domestic opposition against the ruling Law and Justice party, foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski poured scorn on the assessment.

"What right the Commission has to judge anything?" Mr Waszczykowski said on state radio hours before meeting with EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini.

"It is not binding for us. We treat this document that has arrived as an opinion, as a suggestion."

Mr Waszczykowski's words are in step with much of the rhetoric of the conservative government's approach to the EU since it came to power six months ago. It has been at odds with much of the thrust of EU policy over that time, including on issues related to constitutional matters and migrants.

The EU's main criticism centred on steps taken by the governing party, which also controls the presidency, to gain control over the constitutional court, which has the power to block legislation pushed by the government.

Poland has been insisting on more independence for EU member nations on issues like legislation and refugee policy, while demanding more EU solidarity on military and energy security in the face of the conflict in neighbouring Ukraine. It has defied EU plans to assign migrant quotas to specific countries, citing security concerns.

The government, which bases its popularity on social benefits and national Catholic traditions, insists the rapid changes it has made to Poland's constitutional court, its state media and its police powers are Poland's own business and should not concern EU leaders. It says it draws authority form voters in Poland, not from officials in Brussels.

The powerful party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, recently accused EU leaders of having "no respect" for Poland's sovereignty or for Poles themselves.

He says the "rule of law" procedure the EU is now applying to Poland due to the conflict around the Constitutional Tribunal is not rooted in the EU treaties - and has warned that if Poland faces any EU sanctions, it will not hesitate to take the case to the European Justice Tribunal.

The rhetoric comes in sharp contrast to the unity that Poland had with Brussels and Berlin under eight years of its previous liberal government whose head, Donald Tusk, is now the European Council president.

The EU's main criticism of Poland centres on steps taken by the governing party to gain control over the Constitutional Tribunal, the country's highest court, which has the power to block legislation pushed by the government.

Ms Mogherini was in Warsaw to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and Mr Waszczykowski, for talks on EU policy, including toward Russia and on the Nato summit in Warsaw next month.

After her talks with Mr Duda, Ms Mogherini was diplomatic. She said Poland is a "very strong member" of the EU family with strong convictions about its membership and its contributions to the EU's development were appreciated.

Press Association

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