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EU approves funds for Poland after judicial reform

By AFP - Mar 01,2024 - Last updated at Mar 01,2024

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk (second right) and Prime Minister of Norway Jonas Gahr Store (left) arrive for a meeting in Warsaw, Poland, on Wednesday (AFP photo)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Brussels on Thursday formally approved the release of EU funds of up to 137 billion euros ($148 billion) to Poland after Warsaw made progress on judicial reforms.

The decision reflects a change of tone after new pro-European Union Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk took office in December.

Tusk is seeking to reverse contentious policies introduced by the previous administration of the nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) that had been seen by Brussels as backsliding on democracy.

Those policies included a controversial disciplinary chamber that had power over judges in Poland’s supreme court, and a refusal to recognise that EU law had supremacy over national legislation.

They challenged EU principles on the rule of law, earning Poland daily fines and a freeze on billions of euros earmarked for the country from a Covid recovery fund and programmes on development, farming, domestic and maritime affairs.

The European Commission also triggered a last-resort measure that, theoretically, could have suspended Poland’s right to vote in meetings of EU governments.

Tusk’s government has scrapped the disciplinary chamber and committed to respecting EU laws.

It has also agreed to join the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), which investigates and prosecutes cross-border crime involving EU funds.

Taken together, Brussels viewed these changes as sufficient to unlock the first disbursements from the 60 billion euros of frozen Covid recovery money and some 76.5 billion euros in other EU funds, which have been earmarked for Poland up to 2027.

Poland had “fulfilled” three crucial “milestones”, strengthening the independence of judges and the national audit and control systems.

Once EU member countries have agreed to the commission’s decision, Brussels can release 6.3 billion euros in coming weeks from the Covid recovery fund, the EU executive.

Poland should receive around 600 million euros from the other EU programmes over the same period, an EU official said.

The official added that EPPO-appointed prosecutors were expected to start work in Poland in the summer, adding that all funding was contingent on Warsaw standing by its reform promises.

Although Tusk is intent on bringing Poland back into alignment with EU laws and principles, he is challenged by the country’s conservative president, Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally.

Duda is required to sign off on new laws.

The prospect of him blocking the new government’s reforms prompted Tusk in early February to say he would be open to calling early elections if the president stood in the way.

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