Poland will not receive EU funds if its judiciary remains unchanged: EC head

The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said that Poland will not receive any money from the National Reconstruction Plan unless it restores independence of its judiciary during a debate on Thursday at Princeton University.

The EC chief was asked about the money allocated for Poland from the Next Generation EU fund and what actions the EU can introduce to help Polish citizens get rid of the current “undemocratic” government. The woman asking the question also stated that she was grateful to the European Union for not giving any money to Poland as she sees this helping in next year’s elections.

Answering the question Ursula von der Leyen thanked for the opportunity to clarify the commission’s stance toward Poland and Hungary.

She stated that the problem the European Commission sees with the Polish government is “that we (the EC) are deeply convinced that the independence of the judiciary is no more given.”

Ms von der Leyen also claimed that the European Commission cannot change the Polish government, as this is a task for Polish citizens, “but we (the EC) have to protect the rule of law in Poland”.

How can the EC “help” Polish citizens

“What are we able to do? We are able to do infringement procedures, what we are doing, but they take time,” The EC head said referring to possible actions the commission is able to introduce, to force the hand of the Polish government.

In regards to the National Reconstruction Plan (money intended for Poland from the Next Generation EU fund), the EC chief stated that the money “is in principle coupled to reforms the member state has to do”. She pointed out that there is a contract between member states and the EC, “if you do this reform you get reimbursed this amount of money”.

Compliance is key

According to the EC head, Poland has to comply with a CJEU court order and only after it has done so the EC will “disperse the money”.

“We closed the contract. People were partially not happy that we closed the contract, but it is now unfolding what I was fearing, what was predictable, the Polish government does not want to change the laws in the way we have laid it down in the contract, to restore the independence of the judiciary. Therefore we cannot disperse any kind of money,” said Ursula von der Leyen.

Moreover, she stressed that Poland is conflating this issue of the money from the National Reconstruction Plan (KPO) with the help they are providing to Ukrainian refugees, claiming that the Polish government is “mixing two things that have nothing to do with each other”.

And lastly, she compared this situation in Poland with the dispute the EC presently has with Hungary, saying the main problem in Hungary is corruption.

The Polish-EC dispute

On July 15 2021, the CJEU ruled that the system of disciplinary liability of judges in Poland is not consistent with EU law.

While German politicians elect their judges, Poland’s reforms are questioned

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In mid-August the Polish government responded to the EC regarding the Disciplinary Chamber, stating that Poland would continue its judiciary’s reforms, and furthermore address the issue of judges’ responsibility. The Council of Ministers moreover informed the EC about plans to liquidate the Chamber in its present form.

In early June 2022, Poland’s parliament voted in favour of a bill that would replace the disciplinary chamber for judges with a new body, clearing the way for approving Poland's KPO.

In turn, the European Council suspended the KPO until Poland agrees to withdraw proposed reforms of its judiciary system, which the EU considers to be too political.

The KPO was originally planned for 2021-27 and is worth up to EUR 35.4 bn, which includes EUR 23.9 bn in grants and EUR 11.5 bn in loans.