European Union leaders have pressured a defiant Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to fall back into line on recognising that EU law trumps national decision-making, hoping the dialogue will stave off a fundamental crisis in the bloc.
However Morawiecki instead painted a picture of an overbearing union treating its 27 member nations as mere provinces, taking control of even more powers while imposing its values against the wishes of sovereign peoples.
Despite the threat of losing out on tens of billions of EU funds because of his stance, Morawiecki said Poland would "not act under the pressure of blackmail".
Almost all other EU countries agreed that respecting common rules and values was key to keeping the bloc united and protecting its global political and economic clout.
'Play by the rules'
“If you want to be part of a club and have the advantages of a club, you must play by the rules,” said his Belgian counterpart Alexander De Croo. “A red line has been breached and we cannot accept that.”
Beyond holding up Poland’s access to billions of euros to help revive its economy in the wake of the pandemic, the EU’s executive arm can also start infringement procedures, or activate a mechanism allowing the suspension of other EU payments.
If the row continues unchecked, it could turn into the biggest institutional crisis for the EU since the United Kingdom decided to leave five years ago.
Despite bellicose language by several leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a long-time champion of compromise, warned against a protracted political and legal fight that could hurt everyone, especially at a time when the bloc is trying to emerge from the biggest economic crisis in its history.
“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,” she said.
France threw itself behind Merkel. Ahead of the summit, President Emmanuel Macron had a brief meeting with Morawiecki during which he expressed his concerns and asked the Polish leader to engage in a dialogue to find “a solution compatible with our common principles and rules”, the Elysee said.
Morawiecki appeared to shy away from some of the harsh language used in the European Parliament on Tuesday, saying he was ready for dialogue.
“We will of course talk about how to resolve the current disputes in agreement and in dialogue,” he said, adding the main sticking point concerned EU claims for legal primacy in areas where he argued that the bloc did not have competence.