Poland will not bow to European Union "blackmail" but will seek to solve ongoing disputes, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, as he arrived on Thursday to defend his nation before a meeting of fellow leaders in an escalating ideological battle.
Long-running tensions between Poland's ruling nationalists and the bloc's liberal majority have risen sharply since Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled on 7 October that elements of EU law were incompatible with the country's charter.
In challenging a central tenet of EU integration the case risks precipitating a new fundamental crisis for the bloc - still grappling with the after-effects of Brexit - as well as Poland losing generous European handouts.
"Some European institutions assume the right to decide on matters that have not been assigned to them," Morawiecki said ahead of two days of talks among the bloc's 27 national leaders in Brussels.
"We will not act under the pressure of blackmail, we are ready for dialogue, we do not agree to the ever-expanding competences (of EU institutions), but we will of course talk about how to resolve the current disputes in dialogue."
His wealthy Western counterparts are particularly keen to prevent their governments' cash contributions to the EU from benefiting socially conservative politicians who they see as undercutting human rights fixed in European laws.
French EU affairs minister, Clement Baune, said "the European project is no more" if joint rules fail.
"If dialogue does not work, we could resort to various types of sanctions," he said before the summit, as French President Emmanuel Macron told Morawiecki to work with executive Commission to find a solution to the dispute compatible with European principles.
With the ruling, Morawiecki's Law and Justice (PiS) party raised the stakes in years of increasingly bitter feuds with the EU over democratic principles from the freedom of courts and media to the rights of women, migrants and LGBT people.
The Commission has for now barred Warsaw from tapping into 57 billion euros ($66 billion) of emergency funds to help its economy emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Warsaw also risks more penalties from the bloc's top court.
Sweden, Finland and Luxembourg are also among those determined to bring Warsaw into line and have stepped up their criticism since PiS came to power in 2015 in Poland, the largest ex-communist EU country of 38 million people.
For the EU, the latest twist in feuds with the eurosceptic PiS also comes at a sensitive time.
The bloc - without Britain - last year achieved a major leap towards closer integration in agreeing joint debt guarantees to raise 750 billion euros for post-pandemic economic recovery projects, overcoming stiff resistance from wealthy states such as the Netherlands.
Morawiecki has dismissed the idea of leaving the EU in a "Polexit". Support for membership remains very high in Poland, which has benefited enormously from funding coming from the bloc it joined in 2004.
But Warsaw - backed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban - wants to return powers to national capitals and has lashed out at what it says are excessive powers of the Commission.
"Poland is one of the best European countries. There is no need for any sanctions, it's ridiculous," Orban said.
While many have grown increasingly frustrated at failed attempts to convince Warsaw to change tack, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned against isolating Poland.
"We have to find ways of coming back together," she said, adding that having multiple legal cases against Poland brought to the top EU court was not a solution.
Her sway, however, is weakened as the veteran of more than 100 summits during her 16 years in power visits Brussels for what may be her last gathering of EU leaders before she hands over to a new German chancellor. ($1 = 0.8584 euros)