19th May 2022

Poland says edging toward EU rule-of-law deal

  • Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki is welcomed by EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in the executive's Berlaymont building (Photo: European Commission)
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Poland had made progress in unblocking Covid-19 recovery funds, prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Friday (18 February) following meeting with European commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

Morawiecki's meeting is another sign that Poland and the EU executive may be navigating their way out of the rule-of-law dispute that has jeopardised billions of euros in EU funds for Poland.

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The apparent thaw in Brussels-Warsaw relations comes against the backdrop of Poland's historic foe Russia's alarming provocations against Ukraine.

The commission could approve the country's national recovery plan "in the coming weeks," the Polish prime minister said.

A commission spokesperson said after the talks that "discussion will continue".

The only two national plans that have not been approved by the commission so far are from Poland (amounting to €36bn) and Hungary, which has been earmarked €7bn.

The new step toward de-escalation came after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided that that commission can propose suspending EU funds for countries such as Poland and Hungary that break EU rules and values.

While Hungary's nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán, who faces elections on 3 April, remains bellicose, the Polish government, where the ruling coalition has been mired in an internal dispute on how to deal with the EU, has been making conciliatory gestures.

Poland's governing rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party and president Andrzej Duda, a government ally, have both proposed domestic legislation to try and end the EU standoff.

Duda travelled to Brussels last week to talk to von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel about the legislation.

Critics caution that the proposals - to revamp the disciplinary chamber of the Supreme Court - fail to tackle the underlying problem of the politicisation of the judiciary.

The EU's top court has demanded that the chamber be disbanded, and last October, ruled Poland must pay a daily €1m fine for maintaining it.

'Not long now'

In the meantime, the commission said it would "need two-three weeks" to update guidelines on how to implement the conditionality mechanism that suspends funding for rule-breaking members, following the ECJ's ruling.

The guidelines, which have been dismissed by several MEPs as a delaying tactic, are a prerequisite to starting the mechanism, according to the commission.

"It is not going to take us long," a commission official, who was not authorised to speak on the record, told journalists in reference to preparation of the guidelines.

The commission declined to speculate how much money, or which funds, could be suspended in the case of a breach of rule of law.

Once the commission sends the letters to member states to trigger the mechanism, it could take up to nine months for measures to be adopted, or rejected, by the council of member states that have the final work on suspension of funds.

Von der Leyen seen dragging heels on Hungary and Poland

Lawmakers vented frustration that the EU Commission might delay action against the nationalist leaderships in Poland and Hungary despite a court victory. Experts on EU affairs sounded a more cautious note.

EU orders Poland to pay €70m in fines

The case is one of many disputes between the EU and Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which have started to cost money for Warsaw.

EU starts unprecedented rule-of-law probe against Hungary

The so-called conditionality mechanism has been invoked, for the first time in EU history, over long-standing concerns of corruption, amid allegations Viktor Orbán's allies syphoned off EU money, and over how Budapest ignored commission concerns.

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