Polish lawmakers debate nation's EU future

AP News
Posted: Dec 15, 2011 9:39 AM
Polish lawmakers debate nation's EU future

Poland's prime minister defended his government's support for greater integration in the European Union during a lively parliamentary debate Thursday on the country's relationship with the crisis-ridden bloc.

The heated exchanges reflected how deeply attempts to solve the eurozone debt crisis are shaping public debate even in EU states not using the common currency. Hungary and Czech Republic, two other non-eurozone countries, raised the stakes Thursday by declaring that they would not join any new treaty if that means giving up their countries' independent tax policies.

In Poland, the crisis has sparked a debate on whether to cede more power to Brussels to prevent future financial cataclysm, causing fears the nation could lose some of its cherished sovereignty. It's a highly emotional issue in a country that lost its independence to Germany and Russia at several points in past centuries, regaining it only with the fall of communism in 1989.

The debate in Poland's parliament came ahead of a confidence vote on Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, who outraged Polish nationalists by calling in Berlin last month for deeper political integration in Europe as a way of preventing future debt crises.

Sikorski is expected to easily survive the vote, which was called for by the opposition Law and Justice party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, which can't muster a majority.

Kaczynski has sharply criticized Sikorski and the government for wanting to give EU institutions greater administrative control over member's finances, arguing that such a move would erode Poland's sovereignty and national interests.

Kaczynski and his supporters believe the EU demands too much uniformity, and they remain suspicious of Germany, which is playing an increasingly dominant role in guiding Europe through the financial crisis. Kaczynski and some party members wore small Polish flags pinned to their lapels.

Tusk's pro-EU government, however, believes that Poland's future depends on the EU, which has spurred massive investment and economic growth in Poland since it joined the bloc in 2004.

"We definitely need a strong Europe," Tusk told lawmakers. "And that calls for our constant presence, also at a time when the eurozone is thinking about mending itself."

Tusk argued that his nation would face a bleak future outside the union.

"The future of the European Union is in practice synonymous with Poland's future," Tusk said.

Another party leader, the left-wing Janusz Palikot, challenged Kaczynski and his nationalistic followers. Wearing a prominent EU flag on his jacket, he said he would prefer to live among the Germans or French than them _ prompting several of them to leave the chamber in protest.

Poland has a long and troubled history of warfare with its western neighbor Germany, but today the two nations are strong allies and important trade partners.