Poland says it’s not backing down ahead of EU budget summit

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish government officials insisted on Friday that they are sticking to their tough negotiating position ahead of a key European Union summit next week that should finalize the bloc’s next seven-year budget and a major pandemic recovery package.

Poland and Hungary have threatened to veto the 1.8 trillion euros ($2.1 trillion) budget because other EU countries have insisted on a new mechanism that would link funding to respecting democratic standards.

Both Poland and Hungary have conservative governments that have been at odds over rule-of-law standards with other members of the 27-member union for years.

A deputy prime minister, Jaroslaw Gowin, was in Brussels on Thursday, and according to some reports suggested during a news conference there that Poland was willing to compromise, words that some understood as Poland softening its position.

Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski said Friday that Gowin was misunderstood, and that Warsaw’s position has not softened.

Jablonski told The Associated Press that Poland’s position remains as it has been from the beginning, which is that “we are ready to talk, we are ready to come to a compromise, but that there are some red lines” that Poland would not abandon.

“I think maybe he (Gowin) wasn’t precise enough with what he was saying but our position has not changed at all,” Jablonski said.

Government spokesman Piotr Mueller also tweeted that “Poland maintains its position in its entirety with regard to the regulation which determines the spending of EU funds.”

Support has grown within the 27-member bloc to find a way to put pressure on the governments of Poland and Hungary, which other countries accuse of violating fundamental democratic standards. Both countries insist they are unfairly accused and say they are being punished for their conservative values.

The key concerns center on how those governments have increased ruling party control over the courts and media, and the EU has found itself with very little power to change the course taken by either Warsaw or Budapest.

The EU treaty has a tool — Article 7 — that can be used to punish states that drift from democratic standards. Article 7 allows for the suspension of a state’s voting rights but it requires a unanimous vote by the rest of the EU members.

Article 7 procedures have been opened against both Hungary and Poland, but they have gone nowhere because each country had protected the other.

Jablonski told the AP that Poland believes that the proposed mechanism that would allow the EU to suspend funding to a state over suspected rule-of-law violations — which would be by qualified majority — would violate the provisions of the EU treaty in Article 7.

That, he argued, would be a rule of law violation. He also objected to arguments made by other EU countries that Poland’s government has violated the independence of the judiciary. He pointed to the many decisions made by Polish judges against government officials, saying this underlines how the courts remain independent.

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