Merkel faces down Macron over 'Polexit' at last summit

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Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron were expected to clash over whether to punish Poland in EU's rule-of-law row
Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron were expected to clash over whether to punish Poland in EU's rule-of-law row

Angela Merkel faced down calls from Emmanuel Macron and other EU leaders to punish Poland in her last summit as Chancellor.

Amid mounting fears the battle over rule of law could collapse the bloc, the German chancellor called on her counterparts to cool tensions over Poland’s challenge to the primacy of EU law.

Mrs Merkel, 67, urged the bloc to learn the lessons of Brexit, which the veteran leader warned was a completely avoidable divorce.

Her call for peace came amid a flurry of threats to withhold tens of billions of EU funds from Poland after the country’s constitutional court ruled that its laws have supremacy over European rules.

“Germany does not want to have a Polexit. Poland’s place is in the middle of Europe,” she told the meeting, which was her 107th EU summit, according to a senior diplomatic source.

“We must not talk about how to isolate. We must try to fix the problem.”

President Emmanuel Macron, Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, and David Sassoli, the Parliament’s president, have all called for Poland to be hit with punitive measures in the “coming weeks”.

A French diplomatic source said: “We will quickly move on to the next stage, which is the determination of a serious violation of the rule of law, which requires a four-fifths majority.

“This isn’t financial blackmail — it’s a response to fundamental principles, including judicial independence.”

Mr Macron met with the Polish prime minister at Brussels airport before the summit and ordered him to "find a solution compatible with our principles and our common rules", according to the Eylsee Palace.
Mrs Merkel, who is preparing to step down as chancellor after 16 years, was toasted by her fellow leaders over a dinner of Pistou soup, fillet of sea bass and raspberry gateau.

According to diplomatic sources, the departing chancellor used the gathering to slow down internal EU procedures that could result in Polish funding being cut.

She held talks with Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland’s prime minister, moments before he told leaders he would defy European Court of Justice rulings that he claimed violated the country’s national constitution.

“An avalanche of lawsuits at the ECJ won’t fix it,” Mrs Merkel told reporters, as she arrived at the summit in Brussels.

“It’s the question of how the individual members envision the EU. Is it an ever closer union, or is it more about the nation state? And this is certainly not only an issue between Poland and the UE, but also in other member states,” she added. “We have to find ways of coming back together.”

EU leaders eventually agreed to an extended period of dialogue instead of moving to hit Warsaw with punitive sanctions.

One frustrated diplomat said: “It should be the other way around; intervention first, dialogue second.”

Poland is in breach of a number of ECJ rulings, including for failing to live up to the EU’s environmental and democratic standards. But the country’s move to denounce the supremacy of EU law tipped many of the bloc’s leaders over the edge.

In defiance of calls from France, the Netherlands, the European Commission and the European Parliament, Mrs Merkel said the bloc’s “conditionality mechanism” should not be used to freeze some €60 billion of funds to Warsaw.

“It is not a rule of law mechanism, it is a mechanism to protect the financial interests of the EU,” said a senior source close to the chancellor.

Mr Rutte said: "I think we have to be tough...This is to do with the foundations of our democracies in this part of the world, here we cannot negotiate."

Micheal Martin, Ireland's prime minister, added: "We are extremely disappointed with developments and how things have transpired and we believe the situation needs to be resolved in favour of the rule of law."

Mr Morawiecki warned other leaders that undermining the Polish constitutional court's ruling would transform the EU into a “single, centrally managed organism, run by institutions deprived of democratic control”.

“Some European institutions assume the right to decide on matters that have not been assigned to them. We will not act under the pressure of blackmail, we are ready for dialogue," he told reporters at the summit.

He was backed by Viktor Orban, Hungary's prime minister, who publicly came out in support of Warsaw in its battle with Brussels. "There is no need for any sanctions, it's ridiculous," Mr Orban said.

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