Polish leader threatens to veto EU post-COVID recovery plan

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s most powerful politician threatened to veto the EU’s economic recovery plan and its long-term budget unless the bloc stopped trying to “blackmail” the country over its cultural identity, a newspaper reported on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski wears protective mask as he attends the Polish Parliament session in Warsaw, Poland May 6, 2020. Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS/File Photo

Jaroslaw Kaczynski - who is deputy prime minister and, as head of the governing PiS party, also the country’s de facto leader - made the comment in an interview with daily Gazeta Polska Codziennie.

EU leaders signed off on the seven-year budget and the plan to help lift Europe’s economy from its coronarivus-induced recession in July, but both packages must still be approved by EU lawmakers and ratified by the bloc’s 27 national parliaments.

Poland and Hungary previously threatened to block the recovery package unless a condition linking payments from it to adherence with the bloc’s democratic rights and freedoms was dropped.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said last month there was no place in the bloc for “LGBT-free zones”, a pointed criticism of a push by Kaczynski government to curb lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

Asked if Poland would veto the budget and the recovery plan, Kaczynski was quoted as saying: “There will be a veto. If the threats and blackmail are maintained then we will firmly defend Poland’s vital interest.”

“We are dealing with an attempt to take our sovereignty, even in the sphere of culture. We will defend our identity... We will not allow ourselves to be terrorized with money.”

Kaczynski’s government has long been at loggerheads with the EU over undercutting democratic standards, with Warsaw also taking a hard line on migration and combating global warming.

Both Poland and Hungary are under EU investigation for allegedly undermining the independence of courts, media and NGOs, and could thus have EU funds suspended.

Poland has faced a sharp increase in coronavirus cases, with a record 5,300 reported on Saturday. The cabinet wants to avoid another national lockdown, which it says would cripple the economy.

Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; editing by John Stonestreet