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article imagePolish PM rejects 'blackmail' on EU migrant quotas

By AFP     Sep 3, 2017 in Politics

Poland's rightwing premier said Sunday that her country would not be "blackmailed" by its "largest" EU partners into accepting thousands of asylum seekers under a quota system for spreading them throughout the bloc.

"We cannot be blackmailed by the threat that part of our EU funds will be cut off as punishment, because we don't agree to the forced relocation of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East," Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said in an excerpt of an interview with Sieci, a rightwing news magazine, published Sunday on the wPolityce news website.

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said in July that Brussels was taking legal steps against the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland "for failing to meet their legal obligations on relocation" under the quota program.

The three countries could be brought before the European Court of Justice and eventually fined, something Warsaw argues would be tantamount to a cut in EU funding.

"EU funds and cohesion policy are pillars of the European Union just like the free movement of goods and services. We have a right to them... Therefore, we insist that EU treaties must be adhered to and we reject the diktat of the largest states" on migrant quotas, Szydlo said.

Her remarks come as the ECJ is expected on Wednesday to dismiss a challenge by Hungary and Slovakia to the mandatory quota program, created at the height of Europe's 2015 refugee crisis.

The wave of people fleeing the war in Syria and conflict and poverty in the Middle East and many African countries triggered Europe's biggest migration crisis since World War II.

But of this July, only 24,000 of the 160,000 refugees involved in the EU relocation scheme were moved from frontline states like Italy and Greece to other member countries.

Aside from garnering criticism for its rejection of migrant quotas, Szydlo's conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government has come under heavy fire both at home and abroad since taking office in 2015 for a slew of reforms that critics say erode democratic standards and the rule of law.

French President Emmanuel Macron said last month that Poland was going "against European interests", while German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Poland a "serious issue".

The EU launched legal action in July against the government over reforms that it fears will limit judicial independence.

In the interview, Szydlo also rejected claims that her government's actions were gradually pushing Poland out of the EU, calling the allegations "the greatest of lies, a horrible manipulation" and insisting that "we want to be in the EU, we value it".

Surveys show that nearly 90 percent of Poles support EU membership, viewing it as a major source of funding and development.

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