Poles rally to defend EU membership amid fear of ‘Polexit’ | News of the protests

Opposition leader Donald Tusk called for protests to defend Poland’s continued membership in the 27-nation bloc.

Large protests are taking place across Poland to show support for the European Union after a court this week challenged the supremacy of EU law, widening the wedge with Brussels.

Thousands of people filled Castle Square in the historic center of Warsaw on Sunday in opposition to the right-wing nationalist government, with people chanting “We are staying! and holding signs with slogans like “We are Europeans”. Large protests also took place in other cities across the country.

The leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has been in conflict with European officials for six years, with the PiS seeking greater control over the courts. The EU presented the changes as an erosion of democratic checks and balances.

The protests were called for by Donald Tusk, the main opposition leader in Poland and former EU leader, in an effort to defend Poland’s continued membership in the 27-nation bloc.

Donald Tusk, leader of the Polish opposition Civic Platform party, addressed pro-EU protesters in Warsaw [Wojtek Radwanski/AFP]

Addressing the crowd, Tusk warned that a “pseudo tribunal” had decided to withdraw Poland from the EU on the orders of the leader of the ruling party, in violation of the constitution.

“We want an independent, law-abiding, democratic and fair Poland,” Tusk said before the crowd sang the national anthem.

Rory Challands of Al Jazeera, reporting from Warsaw, said protesters “believed they were European and always will be,” but recent tensions between Warsaw and Brussels had fueled fears of an exit from Poland of the EU, nicknamed “Polexit”.

“No one is saying it’s still a probability, but it certainly raises the political temperature here and in Brussels,” Challands said.

Membership of the EU is popular in Poland, having brought new freedom to travel and dramatic economic transformation to the central European nation after the end of communist rule in 1989.

Kaczynski has denied that he wants Poland to leave the bloc, although key members of the ruling party have recently used language suggesting that may be their goal.

In a court ruling requested by the Polish prime minister earlier this week, a constitutional court declared certain articles of EU treaties “incompatible” with its national law and unconstitutional.

Politicians across Europe have expressed dismay at the move, which has undermined the legal pillar of European integration on which the EU27 rests.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said she was “deeply concerned” and that the EU executive she headed would do everything in its power to ensure the rule of EU law.

Wojciech Przybylski, editor-in-chief of the media and analysis platform Visegrad Insight, told Al Jazeera that “if on the one hand nobody wants to leave the EU, even government supporters, on the other , nobody seems to be able to say ‘stop’ to the conflict which prevents Poland from accessing EU funds ”.

The EU is slow to approve the 23 billion euros ($ 26 billion) in EU grants and 34 billion euros ($ 39 billion) in cheap loans to help the country weather the economic backlash of the COVID-19.

Warsaw accused the EU of “blackmail” following a warning from EU Economic Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni that the case could have repercussions on the disbursement of Polish stimulus funds in the event of a pandemic.

EU officials said the money could be released next month, but with strict rule of law conditions.

Przybylski said political wrangling and a ruling coalition of heterogeneous parties – some of which favor holding a referendum on “Polexit” – are to blame for the growing divide between Warsaw and Brussels.

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