Con­flict trig­gers con­cern Poland may leave EU next

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

WAR­SAW: Since British vot­ers en­dorsed leav­ing the Euro­pean Union, politi­cians and pun­dits have ru­mi­nated on which of the bloc’s re­main­ing 27 na­tions could be next. “Grexit” and “Frexit,” for Greece and France, were two sub­jects of spec­u­la­tion. Now, months of open con­flict be­tween Poland’s con­ser­va­tive na­tion­al­ist gov­ern­ment and the rest of the EU has some Poles won­der­ing if their lead­ers are putting the coun­try on a path that could take it out of the union. “There is a ques­tion mark over Poland’s Euro­pean fu­ture to­day,” Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk, a for­mer Pol­ish prime min­is­ter who is a critic of the rul­ing Law and Jus­tice party, said Thurs­day.

The EU is widely pop­u­lar in Poland, so the idea of the coun­try aban­don­ing the bloc strikes many peo­ple here as far­fetched. Sev­eral sur­veys have shown pub­lic sup­port for the EU stand­ing at over 70 per­cent, ap­proval stem­ming from the eco­nomic boom and free­dom of travel that came with mem­ber­ship in 2004. But mem­bers of the op­po­si­tion in Poland in­creas­ingly are voic­ing fears that the con­flicts be­tween War­saw and Brus­sels could even­tu­ally lead to a part­ing of ways.

They point to the de­fi­ant stance Law and Jus­tice and its leader, Jaroslaw Kaczyn­ski, adopted when the EU raised con­cerns about changes to Poland’s jus­tice sys­tem and the ex­ten­sive log­ging the gov­ern­ment has or­dered in a primeval for­est that has been clas­si­fied as a UNESCO world her­itage site. Gov­ern­ment spokesman Rafal Boch­enek in­sisted that Pol­ish lead­ers in­tend to keep Poland in the bloc. “Poland is a mem­ber of EU and is go­ing to be a lead­ing part­ner to other mem­ber states within the struc­ture,” Boch­enek told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Fri­day. “We have got many am­bi­tious projects and chal­lenges to re­al­ize in the EU. We will co­op­er­ate with our Euro­pean part­ners.”

Bu­reau­cracy and in­fringe­ments

Law and Jus­tice has never pub­licly ad­vo­cated leav­ing the bloc, but crit­i­cizes what it views as un­nec­es­sary EU bu­reau­cracy and in­fringe­ments on the author­ity of mem­ber coun­tries to make their own de­ci­sions. In that vein, Poland’s gov­ern­ment ag­gres­sively pushed through leg­is­la­tion to put the court sys­tem un­der the rul­ing party’s con­trol. The EU’s ex­ec­u­tive arm has said the moves vi­o­late demo­cratic norms by re­duc­ing ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence.

With War­saw re­fus­ing to give in to the bloc’s calls for it to re­spect the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is threat­en­ing steps that could lead to Poland los­ing its EU vot­ing rights. The gov­ern­ment also has con­tin­ued log­ging in the Bialowieza For­est even though the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice in Lux­em­bourg or­dered it last week to stop felling trees im­me­di­ately. If it con­tin­ues, Poland could be hit with mas­sive fines.

Katarzyna Lub­nauer, a law­maker with the op­po­si­tion Mod­ern party, said re­cently that be­cause Poles are such “Euro-en­thu­si­asts,” no­body in the rul­ing Law and Jus­tice party would ad­mit that leav­ing the bloc is their aim. “But when we look at what is hap­pen­ing now, we have a deep sense that this de­par­ture is tak­ing place,” Lub­nauer said. “But it will hap­pen in stages.”

WAR­SAW: In this photo taken Aug 3, 2017, Pol­ish women show their sup­port for the Euro­pean Union dur­ing a street protest.—AP

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