After months of wrangling, the European Commission has accepted Poland’s €36 billion recovery plan. However, the decision must still be submitted to a qualified majority vote of the member states.
Poland is one of the three countries whose recovery plan had not yet been validated by the Commission. The last weekly meeting of the EU executive, which took place on Wednesday, June 1st, decided to give its approval, although some commissioners still have “reservations.” The plan provides for €23.9 billion in grants and €12.1 billion in loans.
The plan had been held in suspension because of objections to the reforms of the judicial system implemented by the Polish government. The government considered the reforms necessary to fight corruption among judges, while the Commission considered that they undermined the independence of the judiciary in Poland.
The critical situation in which Poland finds itself, receiving the brunt of the flow of Ukrainian refugees since the outbreak of the conflict with Russia, has certainly led the Commission to soften its position.
The Commission gave the green light on condition that strict controls are carried out. EU executive vice-president for values and transparency Vera Jourova insisted on this point, and recalled the existence of other retaliatory mechanisms that could be used if Poland did not cooperate—in this case, the suspension or reduction of EU funds.
Ursula von der Leyen had set three conditions for the approval of the recovery plan: the abolition of the disciplinary chamber of the Supreme Court (a new institution that was specifically accused of undermining the independence of judges), the reform of the disciplinary regime for judges, and the reinstatement of those who had been sanctioned by the chamber. Poland has so far only partially complied with these injunctions. The dismantling of the disciplinary chamber has been voted by the lower house, but still has to be approved by the Senate. The Polish opposition denounces the measures as insufficient and not in line with Brussels’ requirements.
At the European level, the centrist Renew group has expressed its dissatisfaction with what it considers to be a backward step by the Commission. Its president was severely criticised by Dutch MEP Sophie int’Veld. She believes that Ursula von der Leyen “is losing credibility as the guardian of the EU treaties.” She believes that the agreement on the Polish recovery plan is likely to create “irreparable damage to the European Union as a community of law.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki welcomed the Commission’s decision, which was announced in person by Ursula von der Leyen on a visit to Warsaw on Thursday, June 2nd. The European Council has four weeks to validate the decision.