Poland will veto the EU’s €1.8 trillion budget and coronavirus recovery plan if Brussels imposes rule of law conditions, Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, said in an interview published Tuesday.

“There will be a veto. If the threats and blackmail continue, we’ll firmly defend Poland’s vital interests,” he told the right-wing Gazeta Polska Codziennie newspaper, comparing Brussels’ actions to the Soviet Union’s rule in the past over Poland, adding: “We’re on the right side of history, and those who want to take away our sovereignty based on their own whims are headed for a fall.”

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EU leaders agreed on a €1.074 trillion seven-year EU budget and a new €750 billion recovery fund during a marathon summit in July. But national parliaments — including the Polish parliament — still need to sign off on guarantees that would allow the bloc to borrow money on the markets in order to create the recovery fund. National parliaments also need to agree to any possible new sources of funding for the long-term budget.

Warsaw could also use a step that is usually just a formality — the passing of a regulation laying down the budget in the Council of the EU, after a final deal has been struck with the European Parliament — to block the spending plan.

The threat from Poland’s de facto ruler is part of a strong signal from Warsaw this week that it has no intention of retreating from the radical reforms that have soured relations with the EU, with a judge who refuses to toe the party line under attack and a deputy prime minister vowing to increase the government’s control of the media.

Kaczyński was adamant that his government won’t back down over the rule of law, something that’s provoking similar levels of consternation in Hungary, which has also threatened to block the recovery fund. Talks on the final shape of the conditionality mechanism are ongoing, but some member countries and MEPs insist that countries violating the rule of law should have limited access to EU funds. 

“Today, the EU institutions, their different officials, some politicians that the Polish people have never elected, demand that we verify our whole culture, reject everything that is very important for us, just because they like it,” Kaczyński added. 

That prompted a sharp retort from Manfred Weber, chairman of the center-right European People’s Party, the European Parliament’s largest group.

“Nobody is ‘blackmailing’ anybody Mr Kaczyński. Citizens all over Europe are concerned about rule of law and don’t want their taxes to support governments that undermine the independence of the judiciary or the freedom of the media. What are you afraid of?” he tweeted.

No retreat

The latest dust-up with Brussels is just one of a series of actions taken by Poland’s ruling nationalists showing they haven’t lost their appetite for their program of reforming the country.

On Monday, the disciplinary chamber of Poland’s Supreme Court suspended and waived the immunity of Beata Morawiec, a Kraków judge. That allows prosecutors to investigate her on corruption allegations, charges she denies.

Critics say that the chamber acted because Morawiec is in a personal conflict with the country’s powerful Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro. She sued him and won after he tried to remove her from her post. She is also a president of an association of judges that is openly critical of Ziobro’s sweeping judicial reforms. 

The chamber’s action also ignored an April ruling from the Court of Justice of the EU that suspended it until the EU court could rule on the body’s legality.

The European Commission complained in 2019 about the body’s independence as it is dominated by judges chosen by PiS. The Polish Supreme Court also ruled that the disciplinary chamber is illegitimate.

“The Disciplinary Chamber of the Polish Supreme Court is not a court and cannot continue to act as one,” the European Association of Judges said in a statement, stressing that the chamber was acting in “blatant disobedience” to the top EU court.

More changes ahead

The Polish government has also been chastised by the EU for its control of the publicly-financed state media — which have become one-sided backers of the ruling party. But PiS wants an even firmer grip over the country’s press and television.

On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Gliński said Polish state-owned companies should buy private media operators. The government has long tried to rein in critical independent media, but has been slapped down by U.S. Ambassador Georgette Mosbacher, who has defended U.S.-owned broadcaster TVN from government attacks.

The government is taking aim at German companies, which have a strong position in Poland.

“It’s not a normal situation if almost all local press was in the hands of one corporation, a German corporation in Poland. This situation is not in line with European standards, because the media market is especially sensitive due to its influence on the functioning of democracy. That’s why we have to change this situation in Poland,” Gliński told RMF radio. 

He was reacting to a report in the Economist that Polish energy giant Orlen is in talks to buy Polska Press, a subsidiary of Germany’s Verlagsgruppe Passau that owns 20 Polish regional dailies.

“Where it’s possible certainly state companies should buy the media, but I don’t think that’s destructive to the media,” Gliński said, adding that there is “an enormous preponderance of media which aren’t in the hands of capital linked to the Polish government.”

Since taking power in 2015, Poland’s position on the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters without Borders, a nonprofit group, has dropped from 18th to 62nd this year.

CORRECTION: This article has been corrected to reflect the legal options for vetoing the long-term budget.

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