Mass Protests In Poland Amid EU Exit Fears

Participants wave EU flags as they take part in a pro-EU demonstration following a ruling of the Constitutional Court against the primacy of EU law in Poland.

 

Tens of thousands of Poles rallied on Sunday in defence of their country’s EU membership, after Poland’s top court last week issued a landmark ruling against the primacy of EU law.

The pro-EU demonstrations were called by former EU chief Donald Tusk, now leader of the country’s main opposition grouping, Civic Platform, who has warned of the prospect of a “Polexit”.

“Tens of thousands of people in Warsaw and in over 100 cities and towns across Poland have come to protest what this government is doing to our homeland,” Tusk told a massive crowd in the capital awash with the EU’s star-studded blue flags.

Participants wave EU flags as they take part in a pro-demonstration following a ruling of the Constitutional Court against the primacy of EU law in Poland.

 

Tusk asked people to “defend a European Poland” after a wave of criticism against the ruling both at home and from around the European Union.

Membership of the bloc remains very popular according to opinion polls but relations between Warsaw and Brussels have become strained since the populist Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power in 2015.

READ ALSO: Five Soldiers Killed In India

The main bone of contention is a wide-ranging reform of the judiciary wanted by PiS, which the European Union fears will undermine judicial independence and roll back democratic freedoms.

The latest twist in the long-running dispute was the ruling on Thursday from Poland’s Constitutional Court, a body which government opponents say is stacked with PiS allies and therefore illegitimate.

The ruling challenged the primacy of EU law over Polish law in all cases by declaring key articles in the EU treaties “incompatible” with the Polish constitution.

The court also warned EU institutions not to “act beyond the scope of their competences” by interfering with Poland’s judicial reforms.

“I’m here because I’m afraid we’ll leave the EU. It is very important, especially for my granddaughter,” Warsaw resident Elzbieta Morawska, 64, told AFP.

“Britain has just left the EU and it’s a tragedy, if Poland leaves now, it’ll also be a tragedy,” Aleksander Winiarski, 20, a Pole studying in England, told AFP at the Warsaw rally.

“This government has overstepped all boundaries — this is a mafia state,” Beata, a 40-year-old manager in a Warsaw media company who declined to reveal her family name, told AFP.

Protesters lit up a central square with their mobile phones, sang the national anthem and chanted “We’re staying!”

– ‘Legal Polexit’ –
Brussels warned ahead of the court judgment that the case could have “consequences” for EU pandemic recovery grants and cheap loans for Poland.

Analysts have called the ruling a “legal Polexit”, saying that it could pave the way for Poland one day leaving the European Union.

The government has ruled out the prospect, however.

A day after the ruling, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that the process of Poland joining the EU in 2004 was “one of the highlights of the last decades” for both Poland and the EU.

“Poland’s place is and will be in the European family of nations,” he wrote on Facebook.

He said the principle of the superiority of constitutional law over EU law had already been stated by courts in other EU member states.

“We have the same rights as other countries. We want these rights to be respected. We are not an uninvited guest in the European Union. And that’s why we don’t agree to be treated as a second-class country,” Morawiecki wrote.

The government has to make a decision to officially publish the ruling for it to have legal force.

Experts have said that it may move cautiously in order not to imperil EU funding and to avoid potential legal confusion as Polish courts could choose whether to apply Polish or EU law.

Euro 2020: Spain Face Fight To Reach Last 16 After Draw With Poland

Spain's players react at the end of the UEFA EURO 2020 Group E football match between Spain and Poland at La Cartuja Stadium in Seville, Spain, on June 19, 2021. LLUIS GENE / POOL / AFP
Spain’s players react at the end of the UEFA EURO 2020 Group E football match between Spain and Poland at La Cartuja Stadium in Seville, Spain, on June 19, 2021. LLUIS GENE / POOL / AFP

 

Gerard Moreno missed a penalty and Alvaro Morata squandered the rebound as Spain’s scoring woes struck again on Saturday, a 1-1 draw with Poland leaving them facing a fight to reach the last 16 of Euro 2020.

Morata poked in from close range to put Spain in front but Robert Lewandowski’s excellent header, his 60th goal of the season, pulled Poland level before Moreno’s penalty came back off the post.

The rebound came quickly to Morata but with Wojciech Szczesny committed down to his right, the goal was open for the striker to score his second.

Instead, the ball flew wide and Spain were made to settle for another disappointing draw in Group E that means they might have to beat Slovakia on Wednesday to avoid an embarrassing early exit.

The whistles that accompanied Morata in the opening stalemate with Sweden last week were saved for the whole Spanish team at the final whistle.

Poland, meanwhile, formed a huddle on the pitch before going to over to salute their supporters in the stadium, with the deadly Lewandowski coming up trumps again to keep his team’s hopes of progress alive.

Luis Enrique had launched a passionate and prepared defence of Morata on Friday as he said the team would be “Morata and 10 others”.

But he also replaced Ferran Torres in the starting line-up with Moreno, the Villarreal striker whose 23 goals was second only to Lionel Messi last season in La Liga and who many believed should have been replacing Morata.

Instead, they both played and both were culpable in the game’s decisive moment, even if Moreno had otherwise been bright, his shot teeing up Morata’s opener.

– Dangerous Poland –

Morata almost gave away an early penalty with an overly-zealous challenge in the box, while Mateusz Klich rippled the top of the net with an effort from distance soon after.

Spain were the better side in possession, with Morata attempting a delicate chip when power might have been better, but Poland were dangerous on the break, Lewandowski tearing away after a poor pass by Rodri only to be marshalled out by Jordi Alba.

Morata’s best moment came in the 25th minute and it could hardly have been easier, even if a little shuffle put him in the right position to poke in Moreno’s shot from the right.

The offside flag went up and Spain’s players appeared to expect the cancellation but instead the goal stood, prompting Alba to fling his arms around Morata, who then dashed over to his coach, a show of thanks for the faith placed in him.

Poland came again though and twice went close before half-time, Karol Swiderski hitting the post with a curling shot that came back for Lewandowski, but he smashed at Unai Simon, who saved.

Lewandowski made no mistake nine minutes after half-time, peeling to the back post, nudging Aymeric Laporte to make the space and glancing a deft header into the corner.

Spain should have restored their lead after being gifted a dubious penalty for Klich leaving a late foot on Moreno.

Moreno stepped up but drove his penalty against the post and with the goalkeeper committed, Morata could have scored too but he scuffed the rebound wide.

Moreno was taken off not long after while Torres, on as a substitute, headed wide when free in the area. Morata could not sort his feet out on one chance, before Szczesny flapped at a corner and then saved Rodri’s drive.

The openings kept coming for Morata  as Torres chested down to him but Szczesny smothered the finish and the collision caused Spain’s striker to hobble off with four minutes left.

He was applauded off this time but the whistles for the team came shortly after.

Villarreal Beat Manchester United To Win Europa League

 

Villarreal stunned Manchester United after a marathon penalty shoot-out, with goalkeeper David de Gea missing the last spot-kick, in the Europa League final to lift their first-ever major trophy on Wednesday in Gdansk.

It finished 1-1 after 120 minutes as Gerard Moreno put the unfancied Spaniards ahead in the 29th minute before Edinson Cavani levelled early in the second half.

But Villarreal won a remarkable shoot-out 11-10, leaving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still waiting for his first trophy as United manager.

Villarreal players celebrate their victory at the end of the 2021 UEFA Europa League football final between Spain’s Villarreal and England’s Manchester United at the Gdansk Stadium in the Polish city of Gdansk on May 26, 2021. (Photo by ALEKSANDRA SZMIGIEL / POOL / AFP)
Villarreal players celebrate their victory at the end of the 2021 UEFA Europa League football final between Spain’s Villarreal and England’s Manchester United at the Gdansk Stadium in the Polish city of Gdansk on May 26, 2021. (Photo by ALEKSANDRA SZMIGIEL / POOL / AFP)
Villarreal’s Spanish midfielder Moises (C) and teammates celebrate after winning the UEFA Europa League final football match between Villarreal CF and Manchester United at the Gdansk Stadium in Gdansk on May 26, 2021. (Photo by Michael Sohn / POOL / AFP)
Villarreal’s Spanish midfielder Moises (C) and teammates celebrate after winning the UEFA Europa League final football match between Villarreal CF and Manchester United at the Gdansk Stadium in Gdansk on May 26, 2021. (Photo by Michael Sohn / POOL / AFP)
Villarreal’s Spanish midfielder Moises (C) and teammates celebrate after winning the UEFA Europa League final football match between Villarreal CF and Manchester United at the Gdansk Stadium in Gdansk on May 26, 2021. (Photo by Michael Sohn / POOL / AFP)
Villarreal’s Spanish forward Paco Alcacer (C) celebrates after winning the UEFA Europa League final football match between Villarreal CF and Manchester United at the Gdansk Stadium in Gdansk on May 26, 2021. (Photo by MAJA HITIJ / POOL / AFP)

Pfizer Confirms Fake Vaccine Shots On Sale In Mexico, Poland

Empty vials of different vaccines by Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and AstraZeneca against Covid-19 caused by the novel coronavirus are pictured at the vaccination center in Rosenheim, southern Germany, on April 20, 2021, amid the novel coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic.
Christof STACHE / AFP

 

US drugmaker Pfizer on Wednesday confirmed that suspect doses of its coronavirus vaccine that were seized in Mexico and Poland were indeed fake, with doses going for as much as $1,000 a shot, according to US media.

At a clinic in Mexico some 80 people received bogus doses of the drug, which appeared to have been physically harmless, though offering no protection against the potentially deadly disease ravaging the country, a report in the Wall Street Journal said.

The vials were found in beer coolers and were initially identified by fabricated lot numbers and expiration dates, Mexican officials said.

The liquid in the confiscated vials in Poland was a cosmetic substance, thought to be anti-wrinkle cream, the company said.

“We are cognizant that in this type of environment — fueled by the ease and convenience of e-commerce and anonymity afforded by the internet — there will be an increase in the prevalence of fraud, counterfeit and other illicit activity as it relates to vaccines and treatments for Covid-19,” a Pfizer spokesperson told ABC News.

In February, health authorities in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon warned about “clandestine” sales of “alleged Covid vaccines” and urged people not to take them.

In March, the World Health Organization also warned of “falsified” Pfizer vaccines found in Mexico and warned that the shots “may still be in circulation in the region.”

Pfizer tested the bogus vials and found they did not contain the two-shot vaccine it developed with BioNTech.

Lev Kubiak, Pfizer’s head of global security, said the desperate need and the shortfall in vaccines had led to the scams.

“We have a very limited supply, a supply that will increase as we ramp up and other companies enter the vaccine space. In the interim, there is a perfect opportunity for criminals,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

Mexico is also examining a shipment of 6,000 doses of what is claimed to be the Russian vaccine Sputnik that were seized on a private plane headed for Honduras last month, the newspaper said.

-AFP

Google Unveils $2bn Data Hub in Poland

In this file photo taken on January 08, 2020, the Google logo at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada. Google on March 16, 2021, said it will halve the controversial fee it charges developers at its online shop for digital content tailored for Android-powered mobile devices./ AFP

 

US tech giant Google on Wednesday launched a new cloud data hub in Warsaw — its first in Central and Eastern Europe — with an investment of nearly $2.0 billion (1.7 billion euros).

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki hailed the new hub saying it would ensure “better service from private and public entities” and strengthen security because the data would be stored in Poland.

“We hope that the new Google Cloud region will… help in recovery from the pandemic and will contribute to a thriving digital economy in Poland and the neighbouring countries,” Magdalena Dziewguc, Google Cloud’s country manager, said in a statement.

US embassy charge d’affaires Bix Aliu said US companies have invested around $60 billion in Poland and Google “is adding close to $2 billion to that number by expanding cloud services”.

Poland’s economy last year went into recession for the first time since the fall of communism three decades ago because of the coronavirus crisis but it is expected to bounce back this year.

The government has put an emphasis on developing the tech sector.

Microsoft announced last year that it would invest one billion dollars in Poland to expand its operations, including the creation of a new regional cloud-computing data hub.

Google and Microsoft are among the global leaders in providing cloud services — an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

As well as charging for the service, cloud operators are able to harvest huge amounts of data and open up many other revenue streams.

Poland To Tighten Lockdown Restrictions As COVID-19 Cases Spike

 

 

Poland will shut kindergartens, sports facilities and more non-essential shops from Saturday, the government said Thursday, as coronavirus cases set a new daily record.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also urged Poles to spend Easter at home with their immediate families but stopped short of announcing restrictions on movement and a full lockdown.

Poland was facing “the toughest moment of the pandemic”, he said.

“Our health service is approaching the limit of its capacity. We are one step away from not being able to treat patients properly… We must do everything to avoid this,” the premier added.

Poland’s health ministry on Thursday reported a daily increase of 34,151 cases and an additional 520 Covid-related deaths.

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said large DIY and furniture stores and hairdressers would also be closed and churches would only be allowed to have 1 worshipper per 20 square metres.

Niedzielski said the situation had become particularly acute in Silesia, a coal-mining region in southern Poland.

Poland imposed a partial lockdown this month, shutting schools, theatres and museums nationwide. Cafes and restaurants have been closed except for takeaways since November.

Anyone entering Poland across its southern border with the Czech Republic and Slovakia will be required to undergo Covid-19 tests or go into quarantine, Morawiecki said.

Along with Central European neighbours, Poland, a country of 38 million people, has been particularly hard hit by a third wave of the virus in recent weeks.

-AFP

Polish Daily COVID-19 Cases Hit Highest Level In 2021

Files: Graeme Robertson / AFP / POOL

 

Poland on Wednesday reported a total of 17,260 new cases of coronavirus over the past 24 hours — a record for this year — and said there had been 398 more virus-related deaths.

Health ministry spokesman Wojciech Andrusiewicz blamed the increase on the spread of the British strain as well as “increased looseness” among Poles in respecting virus restrictions.

The spokesman said an additional 1,500 beds for Covid-19 patients would be opened up around Poland in the coming days, including in some temporary hospitals.

Government spokesman Piotr Muller said there had been a slight decrease in the rate of increase “but there is still a long way to go before we can say that the third wave has calmed down”.

Poland locked down at the start of the pandemic last year and was initially spared the worst, but it has been badly affected by a second wave at the end of last year and again this year.

The government last month eased restrictions, including reopening shopping centres, museums, hotels and theatres but it has been forced to reverse those changes in two northern regions in the past couple of weeks because of soaring case rates.

Officials are not ruling out further nationwide tightening.

AFP

EU Tells Five Countries To Codify Anti-Racism Law

A logo for the European Union

 

The European Commission on Thursday told five EU countries — Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Poland and Sweden — to quickly put a 2008 EU law against racism into their statutes.

The five need to “fully transpose” into national law the EU rules that criminalise “serious manifestations of racism and xenophobia”, the commission said in a statement, explaining it had sent formal letters to the respective capitals.

The EU executive already, in October last year, sent similar letters on the same matter to Estonia and Romania.

The commission noted that legislation in Belgium and Bulgaria did not identify racist or xenophobic motives as an aggravating element in crimes, and Bulgaria, Finland and Sweden failed to adequately criminalise certain hate speech, including the trivialisation of the Holocaust.

It also deemed that Finland had failed to allow racist crimes to be investigated even without a complaint by a victim.

READ ALSO: EU Calls For Regular COVID-19 Tests On Mink Farms

It singled out Poland for not specifying “gross trivialisation” of international crimes and the Holocaust, and restricting the criminalisation of denial “only to cases where such crimes were committed against Polish citizens”.

The five countries have two months to respond to the letters. If they do not, the commission can start a procedure that could see them taken to the European Court of Justice.

Celebrity Vaccinations Cause Outrage In Poland

Frank Augstein / POOL / AFP

 

A hospital in Warsaw is under fire for giving out Covid-19 vaccine shots to celebrities and politicians, causing public outrage and sparking a government investigation that began on Monday.

Poland, which like much of Europe began its vaccination campaign on December 27, is currently only supposed to be vaccinating medical workers under a government plan.

But the Medical University of Warsaw hospital last week said it had also vaccinated 18 cultural figures who are intended to serve as ambassadors for the vaccination campaign.

The hospital said it had given out a total of 450 shots, including 300 for its own staff members and 132 for their families and patients.

The list of patients included some politicians.

Among the celebrities were actress Maria Seweryn, who is 45, singer Michal Bajor, 63, and Edward Miszczak, a 65-year-old TV journalist.

The unusual vaccinations first came to light when Leszek Miller, an MEP and former prime minister and regular patient at the hospital, tweeted a picture of a medical record showing he had received the vaccine on December 30.

READ ALSO: EU Defends Its Slow COVID-19 Vaccine Roll-Out

Some local politicians in other parts of Poland, including members of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, have also been heavily criticised for receiving the vaccine out of turn.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told PAP news agency on Saturday that “observing the rules of the vaccination sequence is an expression of respect for the rules of social solidarity”.

“There is no justification for breaking the rules,” he said, calling it “a real scandal”.

Government spokesman Piotr Muller on Monday said a government investigation had begun adding: “I hope that there will be punishment as early as today for all the guilty parties.”

Sanctions could include financial penalties and disciplinary proceedings, he said.

Poland is due to begin vaccinating seniors, teachers and members of the armed forces later this month. Only after that will the vaccine become available to the rest of the population of 38 million people.

Michal Dworczyk, the government official in charge of vaccinations, said on Monday that just over 50,000 people had been vaccinated in Poland so far and he expected 2.9 million to be vaccinated in the first three months of 2021.

Poland Taps Coal Region For First Electric Car Plant

 

Poland’s first state-backed electric car plant is expected to begin production by 2024 in a region of the EU country that now relies heavily on coal mining for jobs, the ElectroMobility Poland (EMP) carmaker said on Thursday.

Lagging behind its smaller EU neighbours the Czech Republic and Slovakia in making electric vehicles, Poland presented its own SUV and hatchback prototypes earlier this year under the Izera brand name.

Meeting with local officials there, EMP’s president Piotr Zaremba said the plant would be built in Jaworzno, a mining town in the southern Silesian coal basin.

With production targeted to begin in three years, the plant is expected to employ some 3,000 people while an additional 12,000 jobs will be created by suppliers and subcontractors.

The value of the investment in the new plant was not immediately clear.

A key figure in Poland’s plan to transition away from coal, Climate and Environment Minister Michal Kurtyka told local media the investment was “an important element in… creating permanent jobs,” in the region as it shifts away from coal.

Now relying on coal for around 80 percent of its electricity and some 80,000 mining sector jobs, Poland plans to phase out its coal mines by 2049.

The move puts Poland within reach of meeting the European Union’s climate target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, something Warsaw had previously rejected arguing it needed more time to make the transition.

Poland’s populist Law and Justice (PiS) government has vowed to create new jobs in coal regions as mines are phased out.

Employment in the coal sector is a politically sensitive issue in Poland, a country of 38 million people where miners and their families are still a powerful voting bloc.

Launched in 2016, EMP was formed by four Polish state-owned energy companies including PGE, Energa, Enea and Tauron Polska as part of moves to transition away from fossil fuels.

World’s Deepest Diving Pool Opens In Poland

A diver is seen in the deepest pool in the world with 45.5-metre (150-foot) located in Mszczonow about 50 km from Warsaw, November 21, 2020. (Photo by Wojtek RADWANSKI / AFP)

 

A 45.5-metre (150-foot) deep diving pool with artificial underwater caves and Mayan ruins, the world’s deepest such structure, opened near Warsaw this weekend.

The complex, named Deepspot, even includes a small wreck for scuba and free divers to explore.

It has 8,000 cubic metres of water — more than 20 times the amount in an ordinary 25-metre pool.

Unlike regular swimming pools, Deepspot can open despite coronavirus restrictions in Poland because it is a training centre that offers courses.

A hotel with rooms from which guests will be able to watch divers at a depth of five metres is also planned.

“It’s the world’s deepest pool,” Deepspot director Michal Braszczynski, a 47-year-old diving enthusiast, told AFP at the opening on Saturday.

The current holder of the Guinness world record is in Montegrotto Terme in Italy and is 42 metres deep.

The Blue Abyss pool planned to open in Britain in 2021 will be 50 metres deep.

Around a dozen customers came on the first day, including eight seasoned divers who hoped to pass an exam to become instructors.

A diver is seen in the deepest pool in the world with 45.5-metre (150-foot) located in Mszczonow about 50 km from Warsaw, November 21, 2020. – The complex, named Deepspot, even includes a small wreck for scuba and free divers to explore. It has 8,000 cubic metres of water — more than 20 times the amount in an ordinary 25-metre pool. (Photo by Wojtek RADWANSKI / AFP)

 

“There are no magnificent fish or coral reefs here so it is no substitute for the sea but it is definitely a good place to learn and to train in order to dive safely in open water,” said Przemyslaw Kacprzak, a 39-year-old diving instructor.

“And it’s fun! It’s like a kindergarten for divers!”

Jerzy Nowacki, a 30-year-old forestry officer and diving novice, said: “For my first time, we went down five metres but you can see all the way to the bottom — the wreck, the caves — it’s magnificent!”

Braszczynski said the pool “will also be used by the fire brigade and the army. There are many scenarios for training and we can also test different equipment”.

Some 5,000 cubic metres of concrete were used over the two years it took to build the pool and it cost around 40 million zloty (8.9 million euros, $10.6 million).

AFP

Polish Cardinal Suspected Of Sex Abuse Dies

 

A Polish cardinal suspected of sexual abuse who had been banned by the Vatican from carrying out his duties has died at the age of 97, the Polish Catholic Church said on Monday.

In the statement announcing the death, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, the head of the Polish episcopate, said Cardinal Henryk Gulbinowicz had caused “pain” among the faithful.

The Vatican’s embassy to Poland earlier this month banned Gulbinowicz from using bishops’ insignia and said he could not be buried in a cathedral after concluding an investigation.

The cardinal had also been asked to donate to a foundation created by the Polish episcopacy to help the victims of sexual abuse.

Appointed cardinal by late Polish pope John Paul II in May 1985, Gulbinowicz has been accused of abusing a 15-year-old in 1989 and protecting a priest who was branded a paedophile.

He is also accused of not having informed the Vatican about another priest who was found guilty of paedophilia.

The higher echelons of Poland’s ecclesiastical hierarchy have been shaken by a series of scandals this year.

Last month, the Vatican’s ambassador to Poland announced the resignation of Polish bishop Edward Janiak who was suspected of covering up sexual abuse of children.

And in August, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Slawoj Leszek Glodz, the Archbishop of Gdansk known for his high-end lifestyle and love of luxury, following accusations he had bullied priests and remained silent on alleged sex abuse.

sw/dt/tgb