WARSAW, Poland -- Tensions between Poland and the European Union's executive arm flared up this week after leaders of the Polish conservative governing party accused Brussels of failing to fulfill its obligations to Warsaw and threatened retaliation.
A European Commission spokesperson responded Tuesday that EU member nation Poland still has not done enough to ensure the democratic principal of judicial independence.
The commission has blocked billions of euros in pandemic recovery funds to Poland, arguing that the country's government is eroding democratic norms. The EU is particularly concerned with the Polish government's reorganization of the national court system and the process for disciplining judges.
The leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, argued in an interview published over the weekend that it was unjust for the European Commission to block the money during the war in Ukraine. Poland has accepted the most Ukrainian refugees of any country.
“There is a crisis, there is a war. These are conditions that fully justify taking extraordinary measures. Since in this area the European Commission does not fulfill its obligations toward Poland, we have no reason to fulfill our obligations towards the European Union," Kaczynski said in the interview with weekly magazine Sieci.
Kaczynski also accused the commission of seeking to break Poland and to force it into submission to Germany, an allegation he has long made.
The blockage of the funds is painful for Poland as it struggles to absorb refugees and with inflation running above 15%. The higher cost of living has threatened the ruling party's popularity ahead of elections expected next year.
Krzysztof Sobolewski, the secretary-general of Law and Justice, said Monday that if the pandemic recovery funds remain blocked, Poland would have “nothing else to do but pull out all the cannons that are in our arsenal and respond with a barrage.”
At the European Commission’s insistence, Poland dismantled the so-called Disciplinary Chamber at the Supreme Court. But legal scholars say judges remain vulnerable to suspensions or other forms of punishment for their rulings.
“Poland needs to fulfill the commitments it made to reform the disciplinary regime,” European Commission spokesperson Arianna Podesta said Tuesday, noting such changes were linked to the country’s plan for using the recovery funds.
“The new law is an important step …. but our preliminary assessment is that it does not ensure for the judges to question the status of another judge without risking being subject to a disciplinary offence,” Podesta said.