In the long-standing dispute over Poland’s judicial reform between the national-conservative government in Warsaw and the EU Commission, there are signs of easing. The Brussels authorities have approved Poland’s so-called reconstruction plan, which is a prerequisite for the payment of corona aid totaling 36 billion euros, confirmed EU Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni on Wednesday evening. However, the money can only flow when the EU Commission sees the required constitutional reforms fulfilled. The decision to accept Poland’s reconstruction plan was controversial on Wednesday within the commission. In a vote, several EU commissioners voted against approving the plan.
Last Thursday, the Polish parliament passed a law to abolish the disciplinary body. The controversial chamber at the Supreme Court in Warsaw has so far made it possible for judges and public prosecutors who are politically unpopular to be dismissed from office. However, critics fear that this practice will not change because a new “Chamber for Professional Responsibility” could also ensure political control.
Vice-President of the European Commission Vera Jourová pointed out that Poland must fulfill conditions such as the reinstatement of dismissed judges. These conditions would be anchored as so-called milestones in Poland’s reconstruction plan, she told the Tagesspiegel. “Approval of the reconstruction plan is only the first step,” said Jourová. “Poland will only receive funds when the conditions are met.” The Vice President announced that the EU Commission would monitor compliance very closely.
Jourová also recalled that the Brussels authority has several tools at its disposal to monitor the rule of law, such as infringement procedures. The EU Commission will continue to make use of this in the future “as long as we have concerns about the independence of the judiciary in Poland”. “There is neither a barter nor a blank check,” said Jourová.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is expected in Warsaw this Thursday to sign an agreement on the milestones. In EU Commission circles, however, it was also emphasized that the reconstruction plan provides for precautions in the event that reforms to the independence of the judiciary that have already been achieved in Poland are reversed again. In this case, a revision clause provides for a repayment of EU funds, it said.