EU crisis: Why Ursula von der Leyen has a huge decision to make

EU member states 'questioning union' following Poland clash

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Poland is quickly usurping Britain as the EU’s greatest opponent with many member states threatening punitive action. The nation claims constitutional law must have primacy over EU law but supremacy is what the bloc insists upon. Many EU institutions are threatening Poland kowtow or leave which the nation claims is blackmail. In a showdown which has already spanned years, the battle between Brussels and Warsaw shows no signs of easing and now the pain is on Ursula von der Leyen’s head.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accused the European Union of making demands with a “gun to our head” and warned the bloc against starting “World War 3”

The nation’s leader vowed to “defend our rights with any weapons which are at our disposal”.

Mr Morawiecki made the threats in an attempt to give ground in the rule-of-law dispute, promising to dismantle a controversial disciplinary chamber for judges which the European Court of Justice ruled to be illegal by the end of the year.

The spat between Warsaw and Brussels has been running for years – and now the Polish PM is calling on the bloc to withdraw its legal and financial threats in a bid to improve tensions.

Speaking about the financial threat from the EU, Mr Morawiecki said: “We will get this money sooner or later.

“The later we get it, the stronger the proof that there is this discrimination treatment and diktat type of approach from the European Commission.”

Poland indicated it could choose to veto decisions on legislation such as the Fit for 55 climate package as retribution against Brussels.

The European Commission has threatened Poland with financial sanctions – including withdrawing tens of billions of euros in EU funding.

At a summit of European leaders in Brussels this week, Poland was warned almost €60 billion (£51 billion) in EU funds were at stake if the nation refused to fall in line with the EU’s democratic standards.

On Friday, Ms von der Leyen said “no measures will be taken” before the EU’s top court issues its ruling on the legality of the conditionality mechanism.

She told reporters: “The European Court of Justice has to judge on a request from Hungary and Poland, whether this conditionality mechanism is legally sound.”

The European Commission President’s words were a step back from previous vows to trigger the mechanism.

Less than a week ago, Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said triggering the mechanism was “a question of days or weeks, maximum.”

However, now the EU leader has pared back her aggressive language amid the row between Brussels and Warsaw.

The EU’s Parliament has threatened to sue Ursula von der Leye if she refuses to withhold funds from Polan.

He said lawyers have been instructed to “prepare a lawsuit against the Commission” to “ensure rules are properly enforced by November 2.

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This means the Commission leader has a tough decision to make: to take tougher action or ease up on Poland as the nation demands.

Ms von der Leyen is therefore looking ahead to some uncomfortable weeks with her close ally German Chancellor Angela Merkel calling for the EU not to treat Poland in the same way as Britain.

The outgoing Chancellor urged the EU to create a “dialogue” with Poland and said she supported the Commission in making its warning to Mr Morawiecki over the need to respect the European Court of Justice.

Ms Merkel said: “It’s the question of how the individual members envision the EU.

“Is it an ever closer union or is it more nation-state?

“And this is certainly not only an issue between Poland and the EU but also in other member states.”

She added: “We must find ways and possibilities to come together again on this, because a cascade of legal disputes before the European court of justice is not a solution.”

Ms von der Leyen has assured the EU Parliament and other EU member states the Commission can “send letters” and “ask for information or questions that are necessary to be asked” as it awaits the CJEU’s verdict.

MEPs are demanding tougher action.

Even if the Commission leader were to use finances to coerce Poland into bowing to the EU, with the conditionality mechanism delayed – it is difficult for Ms von der Leyen to give in on that front without looking soft.

At first, the idea was to green-light the cash needed in Poland in the wake of the Covid crisis while simultaneously launching the conditionality mechanism against many countries.

This manoeuvre was designed to appease Parliament but now the Commission leader is facing increased pressure to approve Poland’s recovery plan.

Brussels and Poland, along with some other Eastern European countries such as Lithuania, have also clashed over migrant populations.

The Eastern European nations are calling on Brussels to pay for “barbed wire or walls” on the eastern flank of the continent.

The physical barrier would be introduced to slow the surge of migrants entering from Belarus.

Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nausėda said leaders should consider “a physical fence or physical border, which is extremely needed as a short-term measure … because nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. Maybe there will be three, four, five thousand migrants staying at the border.”

Austria said the word “wall” was problematic, but he supported the concept of a physical border, adding Lithuania should not be forced to pay for this barrier and instead, EU money ought to be used.

Ms von der Leyen however has been clear she does not intend for the Commission to pay for this option.

She said: “I was very clear that there is a longstanding view in the European Commission and in the European Parliament that there will be no funding of barbed wire and walls.

“We will keep up the pressure on the Lukashenko regime.”

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