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Poland: EU poised to decide on unblocking frozen funding

February 23, 2024

The COVID recovery monies had been withheld because of a dispute between the EU and the former government, but now Donald Tusk's administration could roll back media and legal reforms in return for billions in funding.

Ursula von der Leyen smiling next to Donald Tusk
The funding will provide an investment boost for an economy buffeted by the fallout of the war in UkraineImage: picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS

European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen says there will be two decisions next week on European Union funds for Poland that will unfreeze a total amount of up to €137 billion (about $148.3 billion).

Gaining access to the funding will provide a dramatic investment boost for Poland's economy, which has been shaken by the impact of the war in neighboring Ukraine.

What has been announced?

"I have good news," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a press conference in Warsaw. "Next week the college will come forward with two decisions on European funds that are currently blocked for Poland."

A positive decision means Warsaw would be able to tap into some €60 billion earmarked for the economy to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic and move away from fossil fuels.

Poland could also access some €76.5 billion in cohesion funds to help raise living standards in poorer EU member states.

What does Warsaw have to do?

In return, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk's pro-EU government faces the task of unpicking the policies of the previous nationalist Law and Justice (PiS), which had become embroiled in a dispute with the EU over judicial reforms and interventions in state media.

Tusk has pledged to reverse the previous government's policies, but he still faces strong resistance from PiS allies, including Polish President Andrzej Duda who is required to sign off on new laws.

Polish Justice Minister Adam Bodnar was earlier in Brussels on Tuesday to present the new government's plan, consisting of laws aimed at rolling back the controversial reforms.

"These are such fundamental issues for Poland, issues for which so many citizens fought on the streets, that we simply have to do everything in our power to repair the rule of law," Bodnar told reporters. "Now we have further work ahead of us."

European Union Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said Poland's new government had shown "clear commitment" to repair the damage, but warned that the process would be long. 

Polish president Duda seeking to pardon jailed lawmakers

How did the EU sanction Poland?

The European Commission activated Article 7 of the EU treaty — a last resort procedure used in case of threats to the rule of law — against Poland in December 2017.

Article 7, which was also triggered against Hungary in 2018, can in theory result in the suspension of a state's voting rights.

Tens of billions of euros of COVID-19 recovery funds were frozen over accusations that Warsaw undermined the independence of judges and damaged democratic checks and balances.

Tusk's pro-European Civic Coalition-led coalition emerged as the major force in parliament in October elections, despite PiS being accused of creating extremely unequal electoral conditions by exploiting its public media power.

rc/wd (Reuters, AP)