Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has warned the European Union to listen to its increasingly disenfranchised citizens, respect its member-states, and face up to “reality” in a speech to the European Parliament.
“European sovereignty cannot mean building up Europe at the expense of member-states”, Morawiecki told MEPs in Strasbourg.
“Weak member-states and countries who feel they’re being ignored would be a recipe for indifference to the EU, in which the EU is seen as a problem and not a solution,” he warned.
The Polish premier claimed that, for his part, he wanted a strong Europe, but a strong Poland within it, and was not shy about highlighting the EU’s many problems.
“As a young man, I was a member of the anti-Communist opposition fighting for freedom and democracy,” he recalled.
“In the last few years, the European Union has been dealing with a number of existential crises: the financial crisis, the banking crisis, the eurozone crisis, the migration crisis, Brexit, or Russian aggression; five ‘Nos’ in referendums, and a change in the political landscape in member-states,” he observed.
“All of these things go to show the ‘European project’ needs a new openness… Instead of wringing our hands about the threat [of populism] we should start thinking about how we got in this situation where many Europeans no longer like the direction that the EU is going in,” he added, advising figures who dismiss eurosceptics as “marginal figures” to face up to “reality”.
“People have a ‘freedom gene’ in their DNA,” warned the Polish premier. “They want to decide on their future, their children’s future, their family’s future, their society’s future, for themselves — and when they see that they’re losing that influence and that they don’t have any influence on the future of Europe… then they’re going to oppose what’s happening.”
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Morawiecki’s government has been a thorn in the side of EU since its election, particularly on the subject of the compulsory migrant quotas which it has been attempting to impose on its member-states. The previous Civic Platform (PO) government acquiesced to the measure shortly before being turned out of office in national elections, but Morawiecki’s Law and Justice Party has refused to implement them.
Consequently, he was roundly attacked by the European Parliament’s largely federalist members for a range of domestic policies including a reduction in pensions for agents of the old Communist regime and attempts to reform the judiciary, which Morawiecki has argued is excessively unaccountable, corrupt, and shaped by Communist holdovers.
“[The EU] cannot definitely dictate the conditions of the ‘rule of law’ to member-states; the systems vary to a large extent and you need to take account of those difference,” he insisted.
“It is in the exclusive [power] of member-states to regulate their justice and home affairs systems… Poland has the right to reform its tax law, its justice system, its courts because this falls within the remit of the member-states. We are making Poland stronger, he added.
Elsewhere, he said he was “disappointed” that the European Commission — the EU’s unelected executive, the sole initiator of EU-level legislation, and sometime enforcer — was attempting to intervene in Poland’s domestic reforms.
“Poland is a proud country, please don’t lecture us about these sort of things,” he said, questioning “whether or not the European Commission is really an honest broker”.
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Morawiecki received support for his stand against the EU on mass migration from UKIP leader Gerard Batten MEP, who suggested Poland would in time realise that it is not possible, as David Cameron put it, to be ‘in Europe, but not run by Europe’.
“Mr Morawiecki, you mention the freedom gene. Well, that’s very strong in the British, and that reasserted itself in 2016 in the vote to leave the EU… The British people choose freedom over domination in an undemocratic EU,” he said.
“Poland [has] been a member of the EU for the last 14 years, and it was entirely understandable why you joined, along with the other Eastern European countries, after languishing under Communist tyranny for decades… [but] you’ve discovered there’s a price to pay for EU membership: the EU requires you to accept migrants in untold numbers which would change your country and culture beyond recognition, as indeed it has in many parts of Europe,” he observed.
“You have found that when you have outside interference from [figures] such as multi-billionaire George Soros, who seeks to interfere in your nation’s life as he does in mine, [and] the EU tells you you cannot oppose him.
“You have learnt that if you sell your soul then eventually someone will come to claim it. You can have the rule of law, but you cannot have the rule of your own law — you can only have the rule of [the EU’s] law,” he added.
“You will see in Poland, I believe in the course of time, that it was a wise decision that the British people made to leave.”