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Poland hopes the European Commission will approve its request for tens of billions of euros worth of pandemic recovery funds this month, its finance minister said, despite a stand-off with Brussels over Warsaw’s reform of its judicial system.
Warsaw has requested almost €24bn in EU grants and another €12bn in loans under the bloc’s Covid-19 recovery initiative, but the commission has so far failed to approve the financing given longstanding concerns that Poland’s conservative nationalist ruling party has undermined rule of law.
The judicial overhaul first enacted by Law and Justice five years ago gives politicians powers over the judiciary and created a disciplinary chamber that can punish judges over their rulings. In July the EU’s top court ordered some elements of the reform to be suspended and ruled that the disciplinary chamber was not compatible with EU law.
Tadeusz Koscinski, Poland’s finance minister, said on Thursday that he believed the judicial stand-off should be “decoupled” from the pandemic recovery financing and that he was hopeful of approval for the money this month.
An EU failure to provide the money would be “a tremendous loss not only for Poland but the whole of Europe”, he said.
“In principle I think the commission has approved our plan, it’s really now just looking at the nitty-gritty . . . I don’t think that there is any real problem there for the commission over the content of our projects,” Koscinski said.
“But there is the elephant in the room. I don’t think one should be affecting the other but at the moment it seems like it is,” he added. “We have got to separate it. The plan is one thing . . . in parallel we have the discussion on the judiciary and other aspects. I firmly believe that at the end of the day both [sides] will understand an appropriate compromise must be made.”
The commission is being pressured by an increasing number of countries and members of the European parliament to act against breaches of rule of law in member states and use its financial clout to put pressure on states to adhere to the EU’s values.
The EU’s economy commissioner Paolo Gentiloni on Wednesday evening said the commission was “not there yet” on approving Poland’s funding plan, and that the primacy of EU law was a major issue “as the Polish authorities know very well”.
The commission has approved 18 national recovery plans but not so far those of Poland and Hungary even though the two-month deadline to do so has lapsed.
Budapest has also attracted EU ire for changes made to its judicial system, and a recent bill to ban content depicting or promoting LGBT+ people in the country’s schools and media.
Koscinski said the delayed funding approvals was not yet affecting Poland’s spending plans, as Warsaw was already “building the virtual infrastructure for the projects”.
“It is not like we have put everything in the bottom drawer and are waiting for something to happen,” he added.