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13th Apr 2024

EU rewards Tusk's Poland on rule of law with €137bn

  • Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo (l), Polish prime minister Donald Tusk (c), and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Warsaw on Friday (Photo: ec.europa.eu)
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The EU is to reward Poland's new government with €137bn for undoing the rule-of-law misdemeanours of its predecessor, in a lesson for Hungary.

The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, announced the move while visiting Warsaw on Friday (23 February).

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"I have good news. Next week the college [of EU commissioners] will come forward with two decisions on European funds that are currently blocked for Poland. These decisions will lead to up to €137bn for Poland," she said.

"We are impressed by your efforts and those of the Polish people to restore the rule of law as the backbone of your society. A society where everyone plays by the rules. A society where people and businesses can trust the institutions and can hold authorities to account," she added.

Polish prime minister Donald Tusk said: "It's a tonne of money, we will use it well".

"We got really what we wanted. This is a very crucial day for us because we've done a lot. A huge effort has been done," he added.

The EU froze the money — made up of cohesion funds for poor EU regions and post-pandemic recovery aid — over concerns that the former nationalist-populist Polish government, led by the Law and Justice (PiS) party of Jarosław Kaczyński, had undermined judicial independence — a core pillar of EU values.

And it launched a separate sanctions procedure that could have led to the suspension of Poland's vote in the EU Council.

The judiciary aside, PiS had also turned Polish state media into party-propaganda outlets and clashed with the EU on how to handle Muslim migrants, on LGBTI freedoms, and on women's rights, as well as spouting ever-more fiery anti-EU rhetoric.

But Tusk's centre-right Civic Platform party regained power in elections last October, promising to return to the EU mainstream.

His justice minister also presented a detailed plan on how to undo PiS' reforms to EU-affairs ministers in Brussels earlier this week.

And the Polish blueprint was "a powerful statement ... a clear roadmap for Poland, and your efforts are decisive," von der Leyen said in Warsaw.

She spoke alongside Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo, who currently holds the rotating EU presidency, as well as Tusk, prior to travelling to Kyiv for the two-year anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Saturday.

The PiS-EU clash aside, Poland's stature has grown in Europe due to its central role in channeling Western military assistance to Ukraine.

Its foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, an anti-Russia hawk, is also hoping for a big job in Brussels after the European Parliament elections in June, such as becoming von der Leyen's inaugural EU "defence commissioner", if she wins a second term in office.

For his part, Belgium's De Croo announced in Warsaw that his country would deliver F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine by 2025, amid fears the war could drag out for years.

Meanwhile, Friday's EU-funding breakthrough in Poland stood in contrast to EU relations with Hungary.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán has also had tens of billions of euros held back due to abuse of rule-of-law and is also facing a PiS-type EU sanctions procedure.

He has so far clawed back some €10bn in frozen money, by threatening to veto Western initiatives, such as financial aid for Ukraine and Sweden's entry into Nato.

But EU and US pressure broke his Ukraine and Nato vetoes in the past four weeks, without giving him anything more substantial in return.

Orbán's MEPs are also locked out of any EU Parliament political group for the time being, diminishing their influence, due to his pariah status.

He hasn't promised internal reforms, like Tusk, but Orbán signalled in a state-of-the-nation speech last weekend he wants to come in out of the EU cold.

His MEPs are also hoping to link up with PiS deputies in the rightwing European Conservatives and Reformists group after June's EU vote, which is forecast to elect more right-wing populists than ever into the EU assembly.

EU Commission clears Poland's access to up to €137bn EU funds

The European Commission has legally paved the way for Poland to access up to €137bn EU funds, following Donald Tusk's government's efforts to strengthen the independence of their judiciary and restore the rule of law in the country.

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