Poland’s parliament has issued a resolution backing the government’s stance in negotiations over the EU’s €1.8tn budget and recovery package, ahead of a summit in which the bloc’s leaders are due to discuss ways out of the impasse.
Two weeks ago, European officials struck a deal to link access to EU funds to respect for the bloc’s principles, including the independence of the judiciary, in a move proponents say would give the EU a powerful tool to push back against the authoritarian drift in some member states.
However, Poland and Hungary, which are both subject to EU disciplinary procedures over the rule of law, indicated on Monday that they would veto the bloc’s budget over the mechanism, leaving officials scrambling to find ways to revive the package, which is designed to help the bloc’s battered economies weather the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
EU leaders were set to discuss ways forward during a virtual summit on Thursday evening. But shortly before the meeting, Poland’s parliament resolved not to accept “any solution which does not guarantee EU member states respect for their rights which are enshrined in the [EU’s] treaties”.
The resolution also reiterated the Polish ruling camp’s criticism that the rule-of-law mechanism, which would allow funding to be withheld if this was supported by a majority of member states, would pave the way for politically motivated attacks on Warsaw.
“All propositions containing provisions that are vague, imprecise and prone to biased interpretation must be decisively rejected — otherwise there is a threat that payments from the EU budget could be completely blocked by an arbitrary decision of the European Commission,” the resolution stated.
“From numerous statements from politicians from many European countries, there is no doubt that Poland is meant to be the target of such actions.”
Manfred Weber, head of the right-of-centre European People’s party grouping in the European Parliament, insisted on Thursday that the proposals would create more legal certainty, not less, and “no politicisation of the process”.
However, in an impassioned speech on Wednesday night, Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki accused the EU of using the rule of law as a “propaganda stick” against his country, comparing the bloc’s actions to Poland’s former communist dictatorship.
He also warned that the EU risked behaving like an “oligarchy” and claimed that politically motivated use of the proposed rule-of-law mechanism against Poland would lead to the collapse of the bloc.
“We demand that the EU is not a union of double standards, but a union of equals, and not a union of more and less equal,” he said, listing a number of grievances with the bloc, ranging from the treatment of Polish “posted workers” to the fact that many young Poles — the “flower of the nation” — had gone abroad for work.
“Europe is great, when it is a Europe of fatherlands, when Europe is able to work together, when it can nurture transatlantic relations, when it can in a real way build economic cohesion: a Europe of fatherlands, a Europe of nations, a Europe as was envisioned by its Christian founding fathers.”
Failure to settle the disagreement and enact the EU’s upcoming seven-year budget within the coming weeks would have damaging consequences for EU member states — including Poland and Hungary themselves.
Without an agreement by early December, the bloc would have to fall back on am emergency spending programme for 2021. This so-called “provisional twelfths” annual budget would extend the bloc’s 2020 spending ceilings but only allow money to flow to some ringfenced areas. Cohesion payments would continue for existing projects, but new ones would not be started, hitting poorer EU member states in particular.
The squeeze would be exacerbated by delays to the EU’s €750bn recovery fund, which includes Poland and Hungary among its key beneficiaries.