Given during the debate initiated after the Polish Constitutional Court’s judgment on the primacy of the constitution over EU law, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s Tuesday speech to the European Parliament brought about uproar at the left-hand end of the political spectrum and an outcry of indignation by the right towards what could be called scapegoating of Poland and Hungary by the political left.
“If you want to create a non-national superstate out of Europe, first get the consent of all European countries and societies,” PM Morawiecki told MEPs on Tuesday.
“We say ‘yes’ to European universalism and ‘no’ to European centralism,” he stressed.
“Perhaps someday, in the future, we will make changes that will bring our legislations even closer together, but for this to happen, a decision of sovereign member states is necessary,” Mateusz Morawiecki pointed out.
The aftermath of the speech saw sparks fly in Strasbourg. “Poland is much more than [the ruling Law and Justice] PiS, Hungary is much more than [PM Victor] Orbán, and Slovenia is much more than [PM Janez] Janša,” said the leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) Iratxe Garcia Perez, adding that “citizens of these countries who suffer from the authoritarian drift of their governments trust the EU.”
She also produced a veiled threat saying that “contrary to dictatures and absolute monarchies, in the EU it is the law that rules… My political group definitely does not want Polexit, but when someone threatens not to respect the rules, they put themselves at the exit door.”
“The Commission is obliged to act with all force and all instruments to ensure that the principles of the Union are respected. If it is accepted that one country cheats, the trust is lost and we move from being partners to being competitors,” Ms Perez said.
Tuesday’s debate also featured Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People's Party, the largest grouping within the European Parliament, thanked Donald Tusk, the leader of Poland’s opposition party Civic Platform (PO), for having organised pro-EU demonstrations in Poland and rallied people up to participate in them. He said that the people who partook in the demonstrations were “true patriots carrying the proud Polish flag and also European colours. A patriot does not have to be a nationalist. If he is a convinced European, he is a patriot.”
“Poles are an equal, proud country in the family of European countries. We are thankful and content that we live in such a Europe. It is not about Poland. It is about Polish politics, about the Polish government. That is what we debate,” Mr Weber said, adding that “the constitutions of member states are fundamental but the set of rules of the [EU] community is more important.” He went on exemplifying that his country, Germany, agreed to the Maastricht treaty and changed the wording of its constitution so as to make it compatible with new rules. “Constitutions dictate what is going on in each member state but for the Union, the union law is the most important.”
Addressing PM Morawiecki, he agreed that the so-called “Polexit” is not the goal of the Polish government, adding, nonetheless: “Who questions the supremacy of European law, who questions the Court of Justice of the EU’s rulings, who questions the independence of the judiciary, exits the Union by default. Donald Tusk is right, if a revision of the ruling does not come about, we would be very close to a Polexit. Poles sense that and it must be stopped.”
For his part, Malik Azmani of the liberal Renew Europe (Renew) said that his faction called on the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen “to immediately undertake the following action: reject Poland’s national recovery plan and launch the rule of law-related mechanism of conditionality.”
Turning to PM Morawiecki, MEP Azmani pointed out that Poland accessed the EU to protect values. He went on to say: “Mr PM, you are dishonest towards Poles and you know about this. We all heard your rejections but truth be told, your actions are a treacherous way to lead Poland out of the EU. Be frank and tell [Polish] start-ups that they will lose development funds, tell farmers that they will lose grants, tell students that they can forget [the students’ exchange programme] Erasmus.”
Ryszard Legutko of the European Conservatives and Reformists, the faction including the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, told the European Commission head that Poland “is not afraid of EU law. We are afraid of the lawlessness of the majority, of abusing power, of biased interpretations of treaties… Regardless of what the Parliament and the Commission think, it is not always that the stronger can decide about everything.”
Turning to PM Morawiecki he said that “the European Parliament has been ruled by the same political coalition since times immemorial… This coalition is radically left. EPL and Donald Tusk… have been becoming more radical, trying to impose those leftist views on the entire world.” Mr Legutko felt that “tyranny of the majority was established here [in the European Parliament], which controls everything from administration to the distribution of key political offices. When you will notice it, you will understand why the Parliament wages cold war against and tries to destabilise conservative governments in Europe and why it has been violating basic rules of the treaties creating rules ad hoc that do not exist.”
Mr Legutko also noted that the rules of subsidiarity and proportionality set in Article 5 of the Treat of the EU are ignored.
Speaking in the name of unaligned MEPs, Milan Uhrik felt that “should there be a message addressed to liberals, it ought to be: ‘please, stop finding any new premises for flagellating and punishing Poles and Hungarians. The European rule of law that you have been talking about is an alternative tool of control, imposing liberal agendas in the countries ruled by conservative governments in East-Central Europe.”
“In the name of conservative citizens of Slovakia, I can say that we declare full support [for Poland and Hungary],” he said, addressing his next words to “the liberals in Western Europe”: “Do not provoke Eastern Europe. Let us revert to trade and economic exchange. Do not impose your ideological imaginations on East-Central Europe.”
Although not taking part in the debate in person, Donald Tusk did not hesitate to comment, saying that it showed PiS was capable of pulling out of the judiciary reform and the detrimental changes on the media market. According to the PO leader, dropping these projects and returning to the path of rule of law guaranteed to Poland the acquisition of EU funds for the post-pandemic recovery of the Polish economy.
Mr Tusk expressed his happiness with the government’s declaration of maintaining Poland’s membership in the EU. “Poland is and will remain in the EU thanks to the will of Poles, the determination, thanks to the superior majority of our compatriots who want Poland to continue to be in Europe,” he said.