Poland rules out ‘rule of law’ demands for EU cash

Poland rules out ‘rule of law’ demands for EU cash
Poland rules out ‘rule of law’ demands for EU cash

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - BRUSSELS: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Monday said he would not allow the EU to put “rule of law” conditions on Poland receiving EU budget cash.

Morawiecki spoke as he arrived to the fourth day of an EU summit that has seen the bloc’s 27 leaders unable to agree a post-coronavirus rescue deal.

“For (the compromise) to be acceptable to Poland, we must obtain what we’ve asked for from the beginning: No discretionary powers for EU bodies, EU institutions regarding the rule of law,” Mateusz Morawiecki told Polish media in Brussels.

Like Hungary, Poland has been pilloried for years for undermining EU values such as freedom of the press and independence of the judiciary.

Meanwhile, EU leaders cautiously tried to get the summit back on track.

They began to gather for another session after three days and nights of prolonged wrangling failed to agree a €750 billion ($860 billion) bundle of loans and grants to drag Europe out of the recession caused by the pandemic.

Arriving for the session, France’s President Emmanuel Macron said he saw “the possible hopes of a compromise,” but added: “Nothing has been agreed yet, so I will remain extremely cautious.”

Germany’s Angela Merkel was also careful not to inspire hopes of a rapid result. “Last night ... we put in place a framework for a possible agreement,” she said. “This is a step forward and it gives hope that an agreement can be reached today — or at least that an agreement is possible.”

The wrangling pits a coalition of “frugals” — the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Finland — which wants to cut the package back and impose strict rules on how it is used, against virus-ravaged powers like Italy and Spain seeking EU support.

France and Germany are backing efforts by European Council president Charles Michel to broker a compromise by cutting the grant portion of the deal to €390 billion — down from his initial proposal of €500 billion — and increasing the loan part.

But a European source said the new proposition might not reach Michel’s initial total target of €750 billion target and that the host had managed to convince the frugals to start negotiating the recovery grants only by putting a “knife to their throats” in a showdown late Sunday.

“Until we agree to define the amount of the recovery fund, we can’t advance,” he said. France had been holding out for at least €400 billion in grants, already less than the €500 billion in the first draft.

After Sunday’s raucous dinner Macron clashed personally with the Netherlands’ Mark Rutte and Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, accusing them of putting the entire European project in danger through “egotism” and threatening to storm off if they do not listen to his and Merkel’s advice.

Rutte told reporters he was in Brussels to take care of his own country, not to befriend leaders and “go to each other’s birthdays” — Merkel turned 66 on Friday, the first day of the talks, and received gifts from some fellow leaders. But he also said that, despite the tension, a deal was “very close.”

“We haven’t yet found the way through, and it could still fail, but I’m more optimistic than I was last night when, at one moment, I told myself, ‘It’s over’,” Rutte told reporters.

According to witnesses, at one point Macron thumped the table, berated Kurz for leaving to take a call and accused Rutte of behaving like former British Premier David Cameron — who took a hard line at EU summits and ended up leading his country into a referendum to quit the bloc.

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