Poland’s Heartland Would Rather Keep E.U. Money Than Break With Bloc


KOBYLIN-BORZYMY, Poland — The twin steeples of Saint Stanislaus, a hulking, red-brick Catholic church, are seen for miles throughout the corn fields and cow pastures of this conservative space of japanese Poland, a bastion of assist for the nation’s nationalist governing get together.

That get together is “conservative and Catholic, and people here are very attached to national traditions and the church,” stated Dariusz Sikorski, the elected chief of a county that gave greater than 90 % of its vote to the get together’s victorious candidate in a presidential election final 12 months.

They are additionally deeply connected, nevertheless, to money from the European Union. Taxpayers within the 27-nation bloc offered almost $150 million to construct a close-by freeway and tens of millions extra to assist pay for a youngsters’s playground, water pumping stations, a sewage system, clean-energy initiatives and enhancements to the native college.

With Poland now locked in a tumultuous battle with Europe over the rule of regulation that has raised the likelihood, albeit very small, of the nation being pressured to depart the bloc, the federal government in Warsaw is wrestling with rigidity between nationalist instincts suffused with non secular religion and the fact of financial and political self-interest.

How that rigidity resolves itself will resolve the result of the European Union’s largest disaster since Britain voted to depart the bloc in a 2016 referendum.

Relations with Brussels, the seat of the bloc’s government, have change into so frayed that the ruling Law and Justice get together and its supporters in Warsaw have tossed ever extra incendiary verbal bombs, threatening to “set fire to Europe” and reviling the European Union as a bullying “colonial” power. The Polish prime minister has even talked of a ‘third world war.”

But places like Kobylin-Borzymy seem in no mood for a fight to the death. Poland has received more than $225 billion from the European Union since it joined in 2004. It is slated to get nearly that much again in grants and loans during the current budget ending in 2027, plus another $47 billion as part of Europe’s Covid restoration program.

As for claims by hard-line nationalists in Warsaw that the European Union is an “occupier” akin to the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, “nobody really believes that,” stated Mr. Sikorski, who presides over an area council whose 15 elected members all assist Law and Justice.

Many farmers within the space, the spine of the native economic system and a deep nicely of votes for Law and Justice, would have hassle staying afloat with out subsidies from Brussels, he stated. “Almost everyone here benefits from the E.U.,” he stated. Leaving it, he added, “is not a realistic option.”

But such a departure, a model of Britain’s Brexit generally known as Polexit, has instantly change into a risk within the wake of a ruling this month by Poland’s constitutional tribunal that challenged the primacy of European regulation. Senior officers in Brussels and European politicians have denounced the ruling as an insupportable menace to the foundations of the union that can’t stand if Poland needs to remain a member.

Europe’s conflict with the largest of eight previously Communist nations that joined the bloc in 2004 has been constructing for years over media freedom, L.G.B.T.Q. rights, coal mining and different points. But the disaster threatened to boil over this month with the courtroom ruling.

“You are sleepwalking toward an exit from the European Union,” a German member of the European Parliament instructed the Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, throughout a heated debate on Poland final week at a session of the legislature in Strasbourg, France. The E.U., the German liberal, Moritz Körner, stated, “is not a kind of self-service store. If you do not want to observe European law, you cannot remain a member.”

The ruling get together’s loyal supporters in Kobylin-Borzymy principally dismiss discuss of Poland leaving the E.U. as an idle menace cooked up by overseas and Polish liberals, a view promoted enthusiastically over the previous week by state tv.

At least they hope it’s.

Leszek Mezynski, a retired dairy farmer and deputy head of the regional council, stated the conservative district wished to maintain out migrants and liberal concepts like homosexual marriage to keep away from “civilizational suicide.” But it’s extra involved, he stated, about dropping the financial advantages that movement from European farm subsidies, funding for brand new roads and different giant dollops of money.

Polexit “is not something anyone out here really wants,” Mr. Mezynski stated.

Until Britain voted to depart in a 2016 referendum, nevertheless, Brexit was not one thing many Britons appeared to need both, or anticipated to occur.

Unlike Britain, the place hostility to the European Union featured as a strong power in home politics lengthy earlier than the 2016 vote, Poland has by no means had a big foyer pushing for it to withdraw. In distinction to Britain earlier than its departure, Poland will get far extra money out of the bloc’s pot than it places in.

A 2004 Polish referendum on becoming a member of the union handed with 77 % of the vote and assist for staying in it has since risen to almost 90 %, in line with opinion polls.

Warnings that Poland is jeopardizing its membership have left the ruling get together susceptible to accusations by the opposition chief, Donald Tusk, that the federal government, for all its patriotic bluster, has successfully aligned itself with Moscow by undermining European unity. That is a potent cost in a rustic with an abiding concern of Russia.

Last week, Mr. Tusk, a former Polish prime minister and, till 2019, president of the European Council in Brussels, drew tens of hundreds of individuals chanting “we are staying” to a loud pro-Europe protest in central Warsaw. At a separate rally within the northern metropolis of Gdansk, the previous Solidarity commerce union chief Lech Walesa, who gained the Nobel Peace Prize for main opposition to Poland’s Communist regime within the Nineteen Eighties, denounced the federal government for placing Poland’s membership within the bloc in danger.

Polish cities, nevertheless, have lengthy opposed Law and Justice. Far extra worrying to the ruling get together is the unease felt in its rural base.

The entrance corridor to the first college in Kobylin-Borzymy, named after a Sixteenth-century Polish Jesuit priest celebrated for his patriotism, is adorned with crucifixes and a tribute to the Polish-born Pope John Paul II. The college, too, has been helped by cash from Brussels, which offered support for brand new insulation and a preschool.

Despite declarations by Prime Minister Morawiecki that Poland is a “proud country” that can by no means undergo E.U. monetary strain, such strain has generally labored, even within the get together’s heartland.

Scores of Polish cities dominated by Law and Justice brought about outrage throughout Europe in 2019 by declaring themselves “L.G.B.T.-free” zones. But one after the other, threatened with cuts in European funding, some have since quietly retreated.

And Mr. Morawiecki, shortly after vowing final week to by no means give up in a defiant speech to the European Parliament, opened a transparent path to a partial give up. He instructed legislators that his authorities would scrap a disciplinary chamber for judges that Europe’s high courtroom and its most senior officers see as compromising the independence of the Polish judiciary. They have repeatedly demanded that Poland dismantle it, and reverse different adjustments to the judicial system launched by the ruling get together.

Ultimate decision-making energy in Warsaw, nevertheless, rests not with the prime minister, however with Jaroslaw Kaczynski, 72, the ruling get together’s deeply conservative and unpredictable chief.

Mr. Kaczynski, a fervent Catholic and lifelong bachelor, is reviled by liberals as a reactionary oddball. But he has an uncanny political sense that has made him Poland’s dominant determine, although it’s now being examined by Warsaw’s conflict with Brussels.

He has to fret about alienating voters who depend upon European cash as elections scheduled for 2023 strategy. At the identical time, he’s struggling to carry collectively a fragile coalition authorities that depends upon a far-right faction led by Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, the architect of adjustments to the judiciary now on the coronary heart of the rift with Europe.

In an interview final week with a conservative weekly journal, Sieci, Mr. Kaczynski dismissed the potential for “Polexit” as “complete nonsense” invented by his opponents. But he additionally made clear that he doesn’t need an early election, one thing that will probably be arduous to keep away from until he appeases Mr. Ziobro and fellow Euroskeptics.

While there isn’t any signal but of any mass defection by his supporters, some voters are having second ideas.

Piotr Perkowski, a 43-year-old farmer who will get European subsidies and used to vote for Law and Justice, stated, “I definitely won’t vote for them now.” The authorities took cash from the European Union to construct a brand new water-pumping system, he stated, however didn’t join his home to it, leaving his household with out working water. Law and Justice, he stated, “made too many promises it did not keep.”

But Law and Justice, aided by state tv, has satisfied many individuals in Kobylin-Borzymy that the opposition, not the federal government, is guilty for stirring doubts about Poland’s membership within the bloc by airing the nation’s home quarrels in entrance of foreigners.

“People should settle their disputes at home and not shout so their neighbors can hear,” stated Kazimierz Kloskowski, whose household farm produces corn and wheat. All the identical, as a recipient of money subsidies from Europe, he’s not fully satisfied that escalating rigidity with Brussels is a good suggestion.

“There is no other option for us except Europe,” he stated. “The only alternative to Brussels is Moscow. And we already know what this is like.”

Anatol Magdziarz contributed reporting from Warsaw, and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.