WARSAW, Poland — Poland will oppose a European Union proposal to cut funding to countries where the rule of law is deemed under threat, the foreign minister said Monday, calling it unfair political pressure that would hurt the country while letting others off the hook for different problems.
Jacek Czaputowicz spoke to The Associated Press two days before the European Commission proposes tough new rules for the bloc's 2021-2027 budget. Last week, Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said the plan would include a "rule of law mechanism" that would link funding to observing democratic principles.
"We see this as an intention to exert pressure on some states, as political pressure before talks," Czaputowicz said. "For this reason, we have a very negative opinion about these ideas."
Poland, with a population of around 38 million, is the largest recipient of EU funds. Its economy has boomed for years, partly thanks to the infusion of billions of euros from Brussels that have helped upgrade Polish infrastructure and develop its poorest regions. According to the World Bank, Poland's economy is on pace to grow 4.2 percent this year.
Czaputowicz attributed Poland's strong economic performance to the government using the EU funds efficiently. But he also described it as a mistake to view Poland as a mere beneficiary of EU largesse, noting the bloc's single market has also greatly benefited Western countries, allowing huge profits to flow back to investors.
"Poland opened its market. It gave an opportunity for a certain development of the Western economy, also in Poland," Czaputowicz said. "What we are getting in the form of funds is a kind of compensation for the opening of the markets."
He also said Warsaw supports the idea of raising members' contributions into EU coffers to compensate for the loss of Britain's input once it leaves the bloc, and insisted Poland is ready to increase its payments.
The minister said he finds the idea of financial sanctions on Poland deeply unjust, arguing that there are other EU states flouting rules — either ignoring the rulings of the EU Court of Justice or breaching limits on deficit spending — which aren't being threatened with punishment. He only named Italy as one of those countries.
Czaputowicz also argued that "it is hard to describe the criteria, the degree to which EU laws and standards are being respected" by EU member states.
The European Commission, the EU's executive, has been in a standoff for months with Poland after the ruling party overhauled Poland's judicial system to give it greater say over the courts. Last year, the EU declared that Poland faces a "clear risk of a serious breach" of EU values, but the bloc has proven unable to persuade Warsaw to make significant changes to its laws.
Czaputowicz, 61, was an anti-communist dissident with the Solidarity freedom movement and was imprisoned twice by the Communist regime in the 1980s. Today, he shares the views of the conservative ruling Law and Justice party, which argues that its parliamentary majority and popularity give it a democratic mandate to make wide-ranging reforms, including to a justice system that many Poles feel is inefficient and sometimes unjust.
"Democracy is first of all rule by the people, rule by the majority," he said. "Poland's government also draws its authority from the society, not from some bestowal by an institution like the Commission."
He also insisted that new provisions, which include giving more power to elected politicians to name judges, are similar to laws in force elsewhere in Europe.
"The European Commission never questioned the same principles that are in Spain, in France, in Germany, but is questioning them in Poland's system. We say that this amounts to applying double standards," he said.
EU officials have disputed that argument, saying while some elements of the new Polish laws are similar to laws elsewhere, the sum of them together creates a situation in which politicians have too much say over the judiciary.