Polish president likens EU membership to past occupations

Warsaw (AFP) - Polish President Andrzej Duda has likened Poland's membership of the European Union to the successive occupations of the country by Russia, Austria and Prussia, press reports said Wednesday.

He said that today, as during the 123 years between 1795 and 1918 when Poles answered to an occupying power, "in faraway capitals, they make decisions for us... and in reality we are working on behalf of others."

Speaking at an event in southwestern Poland marking 100 years since the country's sovereignty was restored following World War I, Duda said: "We have today a sovereign and independent Poland where I believe... we will live better and better. Talk about it to your children."

To people who say the European Union is more important than Poland, Duda said "everyone should remember the 123 years of partitions" when the country answered to occupying powers.

"People would say (at the time), maybe it's better, there won't be any more quarrels, uprisings... we'll finally have peace," he said.

But they "soon realised that while the wars continued... we don't decide for ourselves anymore, now somewhere far away, in faraway capitals they make decisions for us, they take the money we earn through our work, and in reality we work on behalf of others."

Poland, which joined the EU in 2004, is the top beneficiary of funds from Brussels, netting some 10 billion euros ($12.4 billion) a year.

Duda is a close ally of the ruling rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party, which came to power in 2015.

Since then, relations between Warsaw and the European Union have soured, mainly over controversial justice reforms that put the courts under government control.

Critics at home and abroad believe the court reforms introduced by the PiS threaten the separation of powers, and in December the EU launched unprecedented disciplinary proceedings.

The EU's censure could ultimately lead to Poland losing its voting rights in the bloc.