No Covid cash for Poland before rule of law reform: EU chief

·2-min read

Poland will only receive the money from its 35.4-billion euro ($38 billion) post-Covid economic recovery package if it carries out rule of law reforms, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday.

She said the EU's approval of the plan announced on Wednesday was "important" but only "a first step, as the money will be disbursed when the reforms and investments are in place".

"We are not at the end of the road on the rule of law in Poland," she said, speaking alongside Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and President Andrzej Duda on a visit to Warsaw.

"Few believed that a compromise could be reached between us and the EU on the recovery plan but we have succeeded," Morawiecki said.

The EU and Poland have been at loggerheads for years over changes pushed through by Poland's right-wing populist government that critics say could undermine judicial independence.

The impasse has festered even as the EU strives to maintain unity to address the war in Ukraine.

Poland, which borders Ukraine, is on the frontline of the EU solidarity effort.

It is the main entry point into the bloc for the nearly seven million Ukrainians who have fled their war-torn country.

And it serves as the logistics hub for weapons sent from EU countries and the United States into Ukraine.

One of the main points of contention over rule of law has been a "disciplinary chamber" for judges that has been rejected by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

"We are not at the end of the road on the rule of law in Poland," von der Leyen said.

One condition for Poland to get its Covid recovery cash calls for judges' disciplinary cases to be heard by a court compliant with EU law that is not the disciplinary chamber.

Another is that judges already affected by disciplinary chamber rulings must have the right to have the decision reviewed by an EU-compliant court "without delay".

Also, judges cannot be hit with disciplinary procedures for asking the EU Court of Justice to rule on certain issues.

A new law making its way through the Polish parliament would dismantle some aspects of the disciplinary mechanism, although the opposition says that it does not go far enough.

"A first payment will only be possible when the new law is in force and ticks all the boxes under our contract," von der Leyen said.

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