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Poland ‘not there yet’ in backtracking on judicial reforms to get EU cash

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday that Poland does not yet fulfill the rule of law conditions required to receive EU pandemic recovery funds.

Poland and the Commission have been in a stalemate for months over unlocking €36 billion in loans and grants from the EU’s coronavirus recovery program. The money was originally supposed to be approved in July but has been held up over worries that Warsaw’s sweeping changes to the judicial system violate the EU’s democratic standards.

For the funds to be released, von der Leyen said, Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice party government still has to fulfill three criteria that have been set out in rulings of the Court of Justice of the EU.

“We’re not there yet, just to make that clear. We’re close, but we’re not there yet,” she said, responding to questions from members of the European Parliament.

The first criteria Poland needs to meet is dismantling a controversial judicial disciplinary chamber in the country’s Supreme Court which has long been an object of contention between Brussels and Warsaw. The second criteria is the reform of a disciplinary regime for judges, and the third is re-installing unlawfully dismissed judges, von der Leyen explained to MEPs.

Poland is already being hit with a daily fine of €1 million for refusing to freeze the work of the newly created disciplinary chamber until the bloc’s top court rules whether it’s in line with EU law.

There are some indications of flexibility from Warsaw, where the parliament is working on legislation proposed by President Andrzej Duda that would meet some, but not all, of the EU’s demands. However, it hasn’t yet been approved.

“We want this reform done, and the best way to have this reform done is to have a law that has gone through the parliament,” von der Leyen said. If the law is fit for purpose and fulfills the criteria, the disbursement of funds can take place, she added.

On Monday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that he was not expecting an agreement for the EU funds to be released this month, but was “hoping” that a deal could be reached with the Commission in the coming weeks.

Poland is arguing for flexibility from the EU, saying the country should get a favourable hearing thanks to accepting more than 2 million refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.

But the Commission is refusing to link the two issues.

Von der Leyen will be in Warsaw on Saturday to attend a Stand Up For Ukraine event, which will raise money for Ukrainian refugees.

Zosia Wanat contributed reporting.

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