1st Oct 2023

EU approved Poland's recovery fund despite criticism

  • EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki at a previous meeting (Photo: Council of the European Union)
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The EU Commission on Wednesday (1 June) approved Poland's recovery fund of €35.4bn — despite ongoing concerns over the Warsaw government's highly-controversial judicial overhaul.

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is expected to travel to Warsaw on Thursday (2 June) to announce the move, which comes after a year-long debate over the release of Covid-19 recovery financing.

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"The European Commission has today given a positive assessment of Poland's recovery and resilience plan," the executive said in a statement.

Poland has been allocated €23.9bn in grants from the recovery fund and has requested €11.5bn in loans. EU finance ministers will also need to sign off on the plan, which could to happen at their meeting on 17 June.

The Polish government's efforts reshape the judiciary have been under EU scrutiny for years, and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that several measures broke the bloc's rules.

The commission set three conditions last year to unlock the funds: scrap the disciplinary chamber of judges, the end the disciplinary regime and to reinstate unlawfully dismissed judges.

These measures will have to be implemented before Poland can access the money. "Poland needs to demonstrate that these milestones are fulfilled before any disbursement can be made," the commission statement said.

However, the decision has come under swift criticism from MEPs and legal experts.

"Ursula von der Leyen committed herself to the promise of 'no compromise' on the rule of law. Exactly such a compromise is now in the works with Poland," liberal Ducth MEP Sophie in 't Veld said on Wednesday, adding: "a short-term political deal with lasting irreparable damage to the EU as a community of laws".

"The president is wasting her commission's credibility as guardian of the EU's treaties and its legal order. She should be held to account for that," in 't Veld added.

German Green MEP Daniel Freund said Poland has not fulfilled the three conditions set by the commission.

"There must be no recovery money without an independent judiciary," he tweeted.

Show of unity

The approval comes as the commission wants to show unity and solidarity with Poland in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Poland has played a key role in the bloc's response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Poland's government has taken a leading role in providing diplomatic, military and humanitarian support to Ukraine and its refugees.

The move is also seen as part of an effort to drive a deeper wedge between Warsaw and Budapest, where prime minister Viktor Orbán's government has also been criticised for democratic backsliding.

The commission also hopes the approval will strengthen prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki within the ruling Law and Justice party and within the governing coalition.

He has repeatedly come under criticism at home from nationalist and eurosceptic justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro who accuses the premier of taking a soft line with the EU.

The commission argues that to receive actual money, Poland needs to deliver on various criteria, which include delivering on promises concerning the judiciary.

EU finance ministers will need to agree to releasing the different tranches of funds and check if the milestones have in fact been crossed.

The Polish lower house cleared a hurdle last Thursday by passing a law to dismantle a panel for disciplining judges, but critics say the move is only cosmetic.

Polish legal experts say that the "the unjustified repression of the independent judiciary" will continue despite the changes.

The chamber will be replaced with another body at the supreme court, whose members will be chosen by the president — the government-allied Andrzej Duda.

And Poland is not completely off the hook with the threat of fines hanging over Warsaw.

Last October, the ECJ imposed a €1m-per-day fine on Poland for ignoring its order to shut down the disciplinary chamber.

Von der Leyen seen dragging heels on Hungary and Poland

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EU top court slams Poland and Hungary again

In a joint letter, five European Parliament groups - from centre-right to far-left - called on EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to defend EU law and take all necessary measures.

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