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Amid spat with EU, Poland accuses Germany of seeking to create a ‘Fourth Reich’

Warsaw has been involved in a lengthy stand-off with Brussels, particularly over judicial reforms; it is also in an escalating dispute with Israel over its Holocaust policies

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling PiS Party, speaks during a campaign convention in Warsaw, Poland, October 8, 2019.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling PiS Party, speaks during a campaign convention in Warsaw, Poland, October 8, 2019.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW — The head of Poland’s ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczynski said on Friday that Germany was trying to turn the European Union into a federal “German Fourth Reich.”

Speaking to the far-right Polish daily GPC, the poweful head of the Law and Justice (PiS) party said some countries “are not enthusiastic at the prospect of a German Fourth Reich being built on the basis of the EU.”

“If we Poles agreed with this kind of modern-day submission we would be degraded in different ways,” said Kaczynski, who is also a deputy prime minister.

He added that the EU’s Court of Justice was being used as an “instrument” for federalist ideas.

Poland has been involved in a lengthy stand-off with the European Union, particularly over the judicial reforms that PiS has pushed through since 2015.

In the latest twist, the EU this week said it was launching legal action against Poland for ignoring EU law and undermining judicial independence.

Brussels is already withholding approval of coronavirus recovery funds for Poland over the row.

EU economy commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said the infringement proceedings targeted Poland for breaching the primacy of EU law and for deciding that certain articles of EU treaties were incompatible with Polish laws.

European Union Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni holds a press conference after the College meeting on global corporate taxation and shell entities at the EU headquarters in Brussels on December 22, 2021. (JOHN THYS / AFP)

Poland has accused the EU of “bureaucratic centralism.”

Poland has also been engaged in an escalating dispute with Israel over its attitude toward the Holocaust. In November Poland’s Foreign Ministry said it will have no ambassador in Israel for the time being, bringing the mission level down to that of Israel’s mission in Poland.

The traditionally sensitive bilateral relations soured in the summer after Poland adopted legislation seen as banning claims for restitution of some seized property, including that of Holocaust victims. Israel reacted in anger to the move.

The law effectively cut off any future restitution to the heirs of property seized by the Nazis during the Holocaust. In response to the legislation, signed into law by Polish President Andrzej Duda, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called it “antisemitic and immoral.”

Relations had already been strained by Warsaw’s refusal to acknowledge Poles’ complicity in anti-Jewish violence during and after World War II.

Poland passed a controversial Holocaust law in 2019 that prohibited rhetoric accusing Poland of complicity in Nazi crimes. That dispute with Israel was resolved when Poland softened the law, eliminating any serious punitive measures.

Trouble in Europe

During German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit to Warsaw earlier this month, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the current German government’s support for EU federalism was “utopian and therefore dangerous.”

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has already ruled against Poland for implementing a mechanism to lift the immunity of judges in the Constitutional Court and to sack any not deemed acceptable by the parliament dominated by the Law and Justice party.

The European Commission is also upset over a 2019 Polish law that prevents Polish courts from applying EU law in certain areas, and from referring legal questions to the ECJ.

Gentiloni told a press conference the Polish moves “breached the general principles of autonomy, primacy, effectiveness and uniform application of Union law and the binding rulings of the Court of Justice.”

The European Commission, he said, finds the Polish Constitutional Court “no longer meets the requirements of an independent and impartial tribunal established by law, as required” by a fundamental EU treaty.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, on May 24, 2021. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool via AP, File)

He said Poland had two months to respond to a formal letter setting out the grounds of the infringement procedure.

In the event of no satisfactory reply, the matter could be sent to the ECJ.

While there is no option to kick Poland out of the EU for not respecting the bloc’s laws, it could be hit with daily fines for non-compliance.

But Poland and Hungary — another eastern EU member accused of undermining democratic norms — have a pact mutually shielding each other from more extreme EU punishment, such as removing their voting rights in the bloc.

Hungary, too, faces delays in receiving EU coronavirus recovery money because of its own defiance of EU rules.

Both countries have threatened to block EU businesses in retaliation for Brussels’ actions.

Gentiloni said he was “confident” the rows with Warsaw and Budapest would not degenerate into a “tit for tat” cycle — but cautioned “we can’t exclude anything”.

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