Poland dismisses EU criticism as unwarranted, non-binding

AP News
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Posted: Jun 02, 2016 8:56 AM
Poland dismisses EU criticism as unwarranted, non-binding

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Polish government on Thursday rejected a critical assessment of its first months in office from the European Union, arguing that the bloc's complaints were unauthorized and non-binding.

A day after the European Commission slammed some of the conservative government's recent moves, which have paralyzed the country's Constitutional Tribunal and triggered international censure and domestic opposition against the ruling Law and Justice party, Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski poured scorn on the EU assessment.

"What right the Commission has to judge anything?" Waszczykowski said on state radio, just 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."

Waszczykowski's words are in step with the right-wing government's approach to the EU since it came to power six months ago. It's been at odds with a lot of EU policy over that time, including on issues related to constitutional matters and migrants.

Under the conservative Law and Justice party, 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 neighboring 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 EU headquarters.

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

Mogherini, the EU foreign affairs chief, was in Warsaw on Thursday to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and Waszczykowski, for talks on EU policy, including toward Russia and on the NATO summit in Warsaw next month.

After her talks with Duda, 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.