WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland and Hungary's conflicts with the European Union could start a process that results in the bloc falling apart, former European Council President Donald Tusk warned on Friday, amid a worsening standoff over democratic standards.
Brussels is at loggerheads with Warsaw and Budapest over issues such as the independence of the judiciary and press freedoms, a conflict which deepened this week as Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled the country should not comply with demands from the EU's top court, while the European Commission took legal action against both countries over LGBT rights.
"If more of these kinds of countries are found who insist on damaging... the European Union it may simply mean the end of this organisation," Tusk, who has returned to domestic politics as leader of Poland's main opposition party Civic Platform (PO), told private broadcaster TVN24.
Surveys show an overwhelming majority of Poles support EU membership, and there is no legal way to throw countries out of the bloc.
However Tusk, who helped steer the European Union through a tumultuous period marked by Brexit, said the risk of an eventual exit existed.
"We will not leave the EU tomorrow, and the EU will not fall apart the day after tomorrow. These are processes that can take years," he said.
The European Union's top court ruled on Thursday that Poland should suspend a disciplinary chamber for judges it says fails to meet the necessary standards of independence.
A day earlier the Polish Constitutional Tribunal ruled a previous demand for the chamber's suspension ran counter to Poland's constitution and the country should not comply.
On Friday, the first president of Poland's Supreme Court, Malgorzata Manowska, issued a statement in which she said she was "deeply convinced" that the disciplinary chamber was independent.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish; Editing by Alistair Bell)