Poland Repudiates Le Pen's Offer to Help It Weaken EU

  • Ruling party asserts pro-EU stance, prosecutor summons Tusk
  • Zloty weakens fourth day as Rabobank sees EU isolation risks

Marine Le Pen smiles during a campaign rally on March 11, 2017, in Deols, central France.

Photographer: GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP/Getty Images

Poland’s government, rushing to reassure voters that it’s not seeking to leave the European Union after suffering isolation at last week’s summit, received an unwelcome offer for cooperation from French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

The EU’s 27 other members ignored objections from Poland by approving a new term for former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as president of the European Council. The vote further soured Warsaw’s relations within Europe after the bloc’s executive accused the ruling Law & Justice party of backsliding on democratic norms. The conflict escalated on Monday, when the prosecutor’s office summoned Tusk as a witness in a case probing collaboration between the Polish and Russian spy agencies.

Beata Szydlo

Photographer: Stephane de Sakutin/AFP via Getty Images

Le Pen, who has promised a referendum on taking France out of the euro if she wins elections in May, was cited as saying by daily Rzeczpospolita on Monday that, as president, she would seek cooperation with Poland on weakening the EU. The comments added fuel to the Polish opposition’s view that Prime Minister Beata Szydlo is seeking to pull the formerly communist country of 38 million people out of the trading union.

“Law & Justice is not interested in dismantling the EU,” Beata Mazurek, the party’s spokeswoman, said on her Twitter account on Monday. Mazurek used the word “dismantle” which Rzeczpospolita attributed to Le Pen, before the Polish newspaper issued a correction a day later.

Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, who was quoted on Saturday as saying the government “must drastically lower the level of trust in the EU” for Poles, also repudiated any cooperation with the French nationalist candidate. “I spoke with Ms. Le Pen in January and we’re not on the same page with this,” he told public radio. His ministry didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking clarification.

To show off her ire at Poland’s EU partners, Szydlo last week refused to sign off on the summit’s results. Waszczykowski said he’d check if EU paymaster Germany used “blackmail” to convince smaller countries to back Tusk and alleged that Poland was “cheated.”

‘Repugnant’ EU

Upon her return from the EU summit on Friday, Szydlo was greeted at the airport by Law & Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who thanked her for defending Poland’s interests.

“We absolutely don’t intend to pull Poland out of the EU, but we also don’t intend to function within the bloc on our knees,” Kaczynski, seen as the real power behind Szydlo’s government, told reporters on Monday. “We’ve gained a new, stronger position in the EU, which many of you don’t understand.”

Law & Justice has repeatedly criticized Tusk, the former leader of the current opposition Civic Platform party, for what the party says are cozy relations with people from the former communist regime and for mishandling the 2010 air crash in Smolensk, Russia that killed Kaczynski’s twin brother, Lech, and dozens of other officials from the government and military. Independent investigations in Poland and Russia found pilot error in heavy fog caused the disaster.

The cabinet specifically objected to a new term for Tusk last week by saying he’s part of a Brussels establishment that has unfairly accused the government of eroding democracy. The EU’s executive has launched unprecedented procedures to force the government to adhere to the bloc’s rule-of-law criteria after Poland failed to publish rulings made by the country’s Constitutional Tribunal and prevented lawfully appointed judges from joining the panel.

Click here for more on Poland’s turn toward populism

The prosecutor’s office in Warsaw is checking whether Poland’s military counterintelligence agency started cooperating with Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, without Tusk’s approval as the head of government at the time. Tusk is the longest-serving Polish prime minister since communism collapsed in 1989, having served from 2007 to 2014, when he left for Brussels to take the post of president of the European Council.

The request calling Tusk to testify in Poland was sent on March 1, cabinet spokesman Rafal Bochenek said. The EU president won’t be able to testify this week as he will be presenting the results of the summit to the European Parliament, his spokesman Preben Aamann said by email.

The ruling party is seeking to make the EU “repugnant in the eyes of Poles” in preparations for taking the country out of the club, senior Civic Platform lawmaker Slawomir Neumann said on Saturday.

Poland’s increasing isolation poses a risk for the currency, according to Piotr Matys, a currency strategist for emerging markets at Rabobank in London. The zloty weakened for the fourth straight day to a six-week low on Monday, declining 0.1 percent to 4.3402 against the euro at 4:38 p.m. in Warsaw.

Poles, the biggest net recipients of the bloc’s budget with more than 100 billion euros ($107 billion) of funds allotted in 2014-2020, are staunch EU supporters. Some 78 percent of them want to stay in the union, while only 12 percent support an exit, according to an opinion survey carried out by IBRiS agency on March 9 and published by Rzeczpospolita on Monday.

— With assistance by Konrad Krasuski, and Marek Strzelecki

(Corrects after Polish newspaper said it misquoted Le Pen on saying she’s seeking Polish cooperation to help dismantle the EU.)
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