Cracks showing in Polish ruling coalition over EU budget veto
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Economy4 hours ago (Dec 06, 2020 01:00PM ET)

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: EU flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels

By Alan Charlish

WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s ruling coalition appeared to be descending into open conflict on Sunday, the eve of a make-or-break week for the European Union’s 1.8 trillion euro ($2.2 trillion) 2021-2027 budget and coronavirus recovery fund.

Poland and Hungary, both under investigation by the EU over their push to curb judicial and media freedoms, are blocking the financial package over a clause linking access to the cash to respect for the rule of law.

Matters are set to come to a head this week, with the deadline for agreeing the 2021 budget due on Monday, and an EU summit taking place three days later.

Divisions in Warsaw’s ruling coalition over its veto of the package have blown into the open in recent days.

On Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin, leader of Accord, a centrist junior partner in the ruling United Right coalition, said his party supported all efforts to find a good compromise.

“The veto is the last resort,” he told the Super Express tabloid.

Gowin had said on Thursday that Poland would be ready to drop its veto if EU leaders endorsed an explanatory declaration on the link between EU funds and the rule of law, but the next day Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the country’s position had not changed.

His remarks also drew a rebuke from President Andrzej Duda’s top aide, Krzysztof Szczerski, who told state-run news agency PAP in an interview published on Sunday that only Morawiecki should communicate Poland’s position.

RIVAL CAMPS

Gowin’s position was in stark contrast to the uncompromising stance of the other junior coalition partner, the arch-conservative United Poland, led by Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro.

Ziobro has warned of the dangers of being soft in negotiations with the EU, saying that anything other than a veto would result in a loss of confidence in Morawiecki, a member of Law and Justice (PiS), the largest party in the ruling coalition.

Many religious conservatives in Poland say the rule of law mechanism could be a first step in forcing Poland to accept liberal policies like gay marriage.

On Sunday, Gowin criticised United Poland’s position, saying the veto would undermine Poland’s economic interests.

United Poland lawmaker and Deputy Minister of State Assets Janusz Kowalski hit back in a text message to Reuters saying: “We don’t get anything for free from anyone. United Poland knows how to count”.

Meanwhile, private broadcaster TVN24 reported that the mayors of Warsaw and Budapest had written a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen condemning their countries’ stance.

($1 = 0.8251 euros)

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