European Commission unlocks Poland COVID funding
Brussels, Jun 02: The European Commission on Wednesday approved €35.4 billion ($38 billion) in COVID relief funds for Poland, ending a long-running dispute between Brussels and Warsaw.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement that the green light was "linked to clear commitments by Poland."
The nationalist government will first have to reverse changes to the judicial system "before any actual payment can be made," she added.
Von der Leyen is expected to travel to the Polish capital on Thursday to formally announce the deal, which unlocks €23.9 billion ($25.4 billion) in grants and €11.5 billion in cheap loans over several years. The commission's decision to release the funds must be approved by member states in four weeks.
What changes will Poland have to make?
In order to receive funds to help with the pandemic recovery, EU countries had to submit their spending plans to the European Commission for assessment. The bloc's executive arm then looked at a range of aspects, such as compatibility with the rule of law.
The commission froze Poland's access to the funding over concerns about judicial independence. It insisted Warsaw scrap controversial changes to its courts, including a disciplinary body that the government was accused of using to suspend judges it did not agree with.
The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has said its judicial reforms were part of a necessary modernization.
The EU's top court in 2021 deemed the disciplinary chamber illegal and fined Poland a record €1 million per day for failing to dismantle it.
The commission said in a statement that it wanted to see a disciplinary body for the judiciary that is in line with EU law and more procedural rights for those involved in disciplinary cases.
Last week, Polish lawmakers approved legislation to shut down the disciplinary chamber and replace it with a new body. Warsaw will also have to start reinstalling judges who had been dismissed by the chamber in order to receive EU disbursements.
Critics: Unlocking funds is premature
Critics have condemned the Commission's decision to approve the funds, saying Poland's reforms thus far have been insufficient.
"We should not accept merely small, inadequate cosmetic changes to Poland's seriously politicized legal system in exchange for the EU funds," the liberal Renew group in the European Parliament said in a statement.
In recent weeks, the commission has come under pressure to release the funds in light of Poland's role in receiving more than 3 million refugees fleeing Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Warsaw has also been a vocal supporter of stronger sanctions against Moscow.