Polish leader hails summit deal on use of EU sanctions

Full Screen
1 / 5

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Police in riot gear block the path of anti-government protesters trying to reach the home of the ruling party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday Dec. 13, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters demonstrated in Warsaw in the latest large protest after a high court ruled in October to further tighten the country's already restrictive abortion law. Sunday's protest was scheduled to coincide with the 39th anniversary of the 1981 martial law crackdown by the country's communist regime. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW – Poland’s conservative ruling party leader says the compromise struck at last week’s European Union summit that limits the use of financial sanctions is a “saber” protecting the country against any potential “attack” on the EU’s part.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski said in comments published Monday that the compromise struck as part of the 1.82 trillion-euro ($2.21 trillion) budget for 2021-2027 and recovery package protects Poland's national interests and secures the country’s share in EU funds that it badly needs for a rebound from the pandemic crisis.

Under the deal, the EU is to draw up precise guidelines for when a new financial mechanism can be used to cut funds to a member that violates democratic standards, and what might trigger it. Moreover, Europe’s top court would need to weigh in on the guidelines’ validity.

The “deal is like a saber that we will be able to use in case of an attack against us,” Kaczynski was quoted as saying by Polish state news agency PAP, in an interview with the Gazeta Polska Codziennie conservative daily.

Poland, which is at loggerheads with Brussels over its record on the rule of law, had together with Hungary protested the sanctioning mechanism fearing they could be its target.

The compromise Thursday averted a veto that Poland and Hungary had threatened against the package, but critics said it also let the two countries off the hook.

Kaczynski, the main architect of Poland's politics, argued the compromise secured Poland's sovereignty and position in the bloc and strengthened its budget.

Poland is to receive some 770 billion zlotys (173 billion euros.)

Minister for European Affairs Konrad Szymanski told the Rzeczpospolita daily the deal would prevent “arbitrary, political” use of the withdrawal of financing as a means of putting pressure on a member state.

“This is an extraordinary situation that has been solved with extraordinary measures," he said.

The deal ensures that the EU executive body, the European Commission, will “stick to the set rules” and the suspension of funds mechanism will not be used on allegations of any breaches, but “only and solely in the case of justified, proven, actual damages to the EU budget," Szymanski said on Onlet.pl.

He said Poland “had no other way but to enter that conflict” over the financial mechanism and obtain the clear-cut deal.

Almost from when Kaczynski’s right-wing Law and Justice party took power in 2015, with two small coalition partners , the government has been in conflict with EU ruling bodies over its gradual taking of control over Poland’s justice system and media. Warsaw has argued the criticism missed the point and the sanctioning measures taken were unfair.

Commentators, like Michal Matlak in Kultural Liberalna, were saying that this latest showdown with EU governing bodies and the threat to veto the financial plan, was another case of Kaczynski using the EU as a tool in the power struggle inside the coalition, as he tries to keep control of the radicals and the far-right wing and its voters.

The government is currently facing a wave of massive nationwide protests that was triggered by Oct. 22 court ruling to further tighten Poland's strict anti-abortion law but is now also condemning other decisions by the ruling team, including the conflict with the EU. A nation of around 38 million, Poland has among Europe's highest level of popular support for EU membership, currently at over 80%.