Fearing ‘Polexit’, Poles join mass pro-EU rallies

Demonstrations in more than 100 towns and cities across Poland on Sunday as Brussels-Warsaw tensions simmer.

Warsaw and Brussels have been at loggerheads since Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power in 2015 [Patryk Ogorzalek/Agencja Gazeta via Reuters]

More than 100,000 Poles have rallied in support of European Union membership after a controversial court ruling raised concerns the country could eventually leave the bloc.

Protest organisers said demonstrations took place in more than 100 Polish towns and cities on Sunday, and several cities abroad.

The marches came after Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled on Thursday that parts of EU law are incompatible with the country’s constitution, undermining the legal pillar on which the 27-nation bloc stands.

That was the latest flashpoint in years of tension between Brussels and Poland’s ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party since it came to power in 2015.

‘We are staying’

The largest of the demonstrations was in the capital, Warsaw, organisers said. Some waved Polish and EU flags while crowds shouted “We are staying”.

On Monday, police in Warsaw said that four people were detained during the protest, including Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki ‘s nephew.

Franek Broda, Morawiecki’s nephew, alleged that a police officer kicked him in the head while he was on the ground being detained.

Warsaw Police spokesman Sylwester Marczak confirmed the 18-year-old had been temporarily detained with the use of handcuffs, but did not address allegations of police brutality.

Broda is a government critic and an LGBT rights activist.

‘Violate democratic rules’

Donald Tusk, the Polish former head of the European Council and now leader of the main opposition party Civic Platform, had urged people to rally on Sunday.

Addressing a crowd in front of Warsaw’s Royal Castle, he said PiS policies were jeopardising Poland’s future in the EU.

“We know why they want to leave [the EU] … so that they can violate democratic rules with impunity,” Tusk said.

A Eurobarometer survey in June and July showed that nearly twice as many Poles trust the EU as trust their national government.

However, protesters said the United Kingdom’s surprise 2016 decision to quit the bloc could be mirrored in Poland with Warsaw and Brussels now on a full collision course.

“Just as Brexit suddenly became a fact, something no one expected, the same thing can happen here,” said Janusz Kuczynski, 59.

The state-run TVP broadcaster, which critics say focuses on the government’s perspective, ran a news ticker that read “protest against the constitution” during its coverage.

Polish PM welcomes court ruling

PiS says it has no plans for a so-called “Polexit”.

PiS member Jacek Sasin has called the idea an “invention of a weak opposition that has no other ideas”.

But Poland’s populist government is increasingly at odds with Brussels over issues ranging from LGBTQ rights to judicial independence.

Politicians across Europe voiced dismay over Thursday’s ruling, which Morawiecki welcomed, saying each member state must be treated with respect.

The Constitutional Tribunal took on the case after Morawiecki asked it whether EU institutions could stop Poland from reorganising its judiciary.

The European Court of Justice ruled in March that Poland’s new regulations for appointing Supreme Court justices could violate EU law and ordered Warsaw to suspend them.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies