Opposition leader Donald Tusk has called for protests to defend Poland’s continued membership of the bloc of 27 nations.
Major protests are taking place across Poland to show support for the EU, after a court this week challenged the supremacy of EU law and extended the breach with Brussels.
Thousands of people filled the Palace Square in Warsaw’s historic center on Sunday in a show of resistance against the right-wing nationalist government with people singing “We will stay!” and hold signs with slogans such as “We are Europeans”. Major protests also took place in other cities across the country.
The leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has been in conflict with EU officials for the past six years as PiS has sought greater control over the courts. The EU has thrown the changes as an erosion of democratic controls and balances.
The protests have been called for by Donald Tusk, Poland’s top opposition leader and former EU leader, in an attempt to defend Poland’s continued membership of the bloc of 27 nations.
Tusk warned the crowds, warning that a “pseudo-court” had decided to take Poland out of the EU by order of the ruling party leader in violation of the constitution.
“We want an independent, law-abiding, democratic and just Poland,” Tusk said before the crowd sang the national anthem.
Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from Warsaw, said the protesters “believe they are Europeans and will always be Europeans”, but that recent tensions between Warsaw and Brussels had raised fears of a Polish exit from the EU, called “Polexit”. “.
“Nobody says it’s a probability yet, but it’s definitely raising the political temperature here and in Brussels,” Challands said.
EU membership is popular in Poland, following the new freedom of movement and a dramatic economic transformation of the Central European nation after the end of the communist regime in 1989.
Kaczynski has denied that he wants Poland to leave the bloc, even though top members of the ruling party have recently used language that suggests it may be their goal.
In a legal decision requested by Poland’s prime minister earlier this week, a constitutional court declared some articles of EU treaties “incompatible” with its national law and unconstitutional.
Politicians across Europe have expressed dismay at the ruling, which undermined the legal pillar of European integration on which the EU of 27 nations stands.
Ursula von der Leyen, chair of the European Commission, said she was “deeply concerned” and that the leading EU leader she was leading would do everything she could to ensure the primacy of EU law.
Wojciech Przybylski, editor-in-chief of analysis and media platform Visegrad Insight, told Al Jazeera that “while on the one hand no one wants to leave the EU, even supporters of the government, on the other hand no one seems to be able to say ‘stop’ to the conflict, preventing Poland from accessing EU funds “.
The EU is stopping approving the € 23 billion ($ 26 billion) in EU subsidies and € 34 billion ($ 39 billion) in cheap loans to help the country get past the economic downturn of COVID-19.
Warsaw has accused the EU of “extortion” following a warning from EU Economic Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni that the trial could have consequences for the payment of Poland’s pandemic recovery funds.
EU officials have said the money can be disbursed next month, but with strict rule of law.
Przybylski said political strife and a ruling coalition of heterogeneous parties – some of whom are in favor of holding a referendum on “Polexit” – are to blame for the growing rift between Warsaw and Brussels.