Justice minister advocates suspending EU dues over rule-of-law dispute

Paweł Supernak/PAP

Poland's justice minister has told the UK's Financial Times that he favours suspending EU membership contributions if the bloc withholds funding over an ongoing dispute over judicial reforms.

In an interview, published on Sunday, Zbigniew Ziobro accused Brussels of seeking to change the government in Poland under the pretext of safeguarding the rule of law. Brussels has objected to judicial reforms enacted by the Polish government, which it says undermine the independence of judges and politicises the judiciary.

"The European Commission is posing impossible conditions because its real goal is not to achieve a supposed rule of law but to change the government in Poland,” Ziobro told the paper. "It is sending a message to Poles: if you support this government, you will not get money from the EU. It is not their concern for the rule of law but a contradiction — a political diktat enforced by blackmail and an attempt to undermine a democratic decision of several million Poles."

The European Commission (EC) wants Poland to liquidate a contested Disciplinary Chamber of the country's Supreme Court and reinstate dismissed judges as a precondition for the release of billions of euros in post-Pandemic recovery funding, the FT wrote. The EC has already delayed the payout of EUR 36 billion and the European Parliament wants it to activate a "conditionality mechanism" enshrined in the funding rules in order to exert further financial pressure on Warsaw.

But Ziobro claimed the EC would be acting "illegitimately" if it withheld funding over the rule-of-law dispute. He also said he expected the EC to back down, but that if the conditionality mechanism - which has been the subject of legal queries by Poland and Hungary - were to be used, he would advocate a policy of vetoing EU actions. 

"Poland should respond to EU’s blackmail with a veto on all matters that require unanimity in the EU," he said. "Poland should also revise its commitment to EU climate and energy policy, which results in drastic hikes of energy prices. 

"If this dispute escalates, I will demand that Poland suspends its EU contributions," continued. "It would be justifiable since the EU illegitimately denies us funds from a joint budget that we also contribute to."

Ziobro's Solidary Poland party is a junior member of the ruling United Right coalition, shoring up its slim parliamentary majority.

But Ziobro also conceded that he would "allow for the possibility" of the Disciplinary Chamber being axed as part of an overhaul of the Supreme Court. However, he said that reversing the chamber's decisions barring about 600 judges from adjudicating would be "unacceptable" as some had committed crimes. He also claimed that allowing judges to question each other's status would lead to "anarchy."

The justice minister couched the dispute with Brussels in terms of plans for a federal Europe, accusing the bloc of a "brutal attack" against Poland.

"The EU is conducting an aggressive policy and does not care about the rule of law. It is just a pretext," he said. "Brutal economic blackmail is supposed to force Poland to agree to the EU being restructured into a federal state officially managed from Brussels, but in practical terms — from Berlin. Before that it is supposed to assure the fall of the democratically formed Polish government, which opposes this direction of change in Europe."