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Poland warns it will turn cannons on the EU in rule of law dispute

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Poland’s de facto leader Jarosław Kaczyński is vowing that his government will take no further steps to meet the European Commission’s rule of law demands to unlock €35 billion in grants and loans from the EU pandemic relief program.

“We have shown maximum goodwill, but concessions have yielded nothing,” Kaczyński told the pro-government Sieci news portal. He insisted that Poland has met its side of a deal with Brussels to backtrack on some aspects of judicial system reforms in return for the EU cash, but the agreement was “broken” by the other side. “It’s time to learn lessons,” he added.

“Since the European Commission is not fulfilling its obligations to Poland in this area, we have no reason to fulfill our obligations to the European Union,” Kaczyński said.

The Commission demanded that Poland meet a series of “milestones” in rolling back changes to the court system seen as bringing judges under tighter political control in violation of the EU’s democratic standards before it will agree to pay out the recovery funds.

The Polish parliament last month passed legislation that took some steps toward those targets, but those measures haven’t gone far enough, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Poland’s Dziennik Gazeta Prawna newspaper.

Poland also faces a €1 million a day fine from the Court of Justice of the EU for not complying with an EU court order to suspend the country’s controversial disciplinary mechanism for judges — amounting to more than €280 million.

But Kaczyński insisted that the nationalist government led by his Law and Justice (PiS) party will do no more. He accused the Commission of trying to undermine rule of law in Poland and reminded Polish judges that their first loyalty is to Polish law.

He sees the issue as part of a broader conspiracy aimed at subverting Poland and accused the Commission of trying “to break Poland and force it into full submission to Germany.”

“We do not fit into German-Russian plans to rule Europe,” he warned. “An independent, economically, socially and militarily strong Poland is an obstacle for them.”

Poland’s government needs the EU funds to help deal with soaring inflation and the rising threat of an economic slowdown, but retreating before demands from Brussels would anger the ruling party’s core electorate ahead of next year’s parliamentary election.

The broader party is squarely behind Kaczyński in the fight with Brussels.

“If the European Commission tries to push us against the wall, we will have no choice but to pull out all the cannons in our arsenal and open fire,” Krzysztof Sobolewski, the party’s secretary-general, warned in an interview Monday with Polish state radio. He said Warsaw would adopt a “tooth for a tooth” strategy by vetoing EU initiatives, building a coalition to fire von der Leyen and dismiss the whole Commission as well as take legal action against Brussels to get the recovery fund money.

“We aren’t excluding any actions,” he said.

The opposition is seizing on the warlike comments from Kaczyński and other PiS leaders to warn Poles that such policies will lead to a “Polexit” of Poland quitting the EU; Poles overwhelmingly support staying in the bloc.

“The more Kaczyński uses the EU as a scare tactic, the more he falls into ridicule. No one will take seriously a man who, instead of big funds, prefers to give Poles poverty, lawlessness, destruction of judicial independence and, consequently, #Polexit,” said Grzegorz Schetyna, one of the leaders of the opposition Civic Platform party.

However, Sobolewski stressed: “We are not leaving the EU,” adding that his party wanted to reform the bloc to change it into a “union of European nations.”

The EU has already paid out more than €100 billion in Recovery and Resilience Facility funds, but disbursements to Poland and Hungary have stalled over rule of law qualms.

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