No recovery funds if Poland lacks judicial independence - EC head

Philipp von Ditfurth PAP/DPA

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has warned that the EU's post-pandemic recovery funds will not be unlocked for Poland if the country does not bring back the independence of the judiciary.

The European Commission (EC) approved Poland's National Recovery Plan (KPO) in early June, opening the way for Warsaw to get EUR 23.9 billion in grants and EUR 11.5 billion in cheap loans. But the EC has long been at loggerheads with Poland's ruling Law and Justice party and froze Warsaw's access to the funds until it meets several conditions, known as "milestones", on the rule of law.

In May, Poland adopted new legislation abolishing a disciplinary chamber for judges at the Polish Supreme Court, which has been at the heart of the dispute between Brussels and Warsaw. In July, a new body was set up at the Supreme Court called the Chamber of Professional Responsibility, whose judges are appointed by the president. But Brussels would like to see further steps taken including the reinstatement of judges removed from adjudication by the contested disciplinary chamber. The EC is also concerned that the new chamber may be just another "politically controlled" institution, similar to the body liquidated in May.

Von der Leyen was asked at Princeton University in the United States on Thursday about the money for Poland's KPO and how the EU can deal with the authorities in Warsaw.

She replied that the Commission was guardian of the European treaties with regard to the rule of law and has "tools" to protect it.

She added that the EC is firmly convinced that the independence of the judiciary is no longer in Poland and therefore the Commission must resort to its legal tools to defend the rule of law in Poland.

Von der Leyen said that the Commission has told the Polish government that there is a court order to restore the independence of the judiciary and that they must comply with it.

"Polish government doesn’t want to change the laws in the way we have laid down in the contract to restore the independence of judiciary," Von der Leyen said.

"Therefore, we will not and cannot disperse any kind of money," she added.