(Reuters) – The European Union will not pay Poland the vast majority of 75 billion euros worth of development funds earmarked for it through 2027 unless it fixes its courts, a spokesman for the bloc’s executive said on Monday.
Citing a flawed judiciary, the Brussels-based European Commission has already frozen some 35 billion euros assigned to Poland from a shared economic EU stimulus aimed at helping to lift economies out of a slump caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now the Commission has warned that nearly all of Poland’s so-called cohesion funds, from the bloc’s 2021-27 shared budget, were at stake given that Warsaw was not meeting democratic standards on judicial independence.
“Because of non-compliance, the Commission cannot reimburse payment claims,” said spokesman Stefan de Keersmaecker, adding that the only exception was for a tiny fraction of the money linked to technical assistance in setting up development projects, rather than actually implementing them.
In power since 2015, the ruling populist Law and Justice (PiS) party has overhauled Poland’s courts. The changes have included some cases of judges critical of the government being sidelined and allies promoted to top positions.
The EU, as well as many international watchdogs and rights groups, has said PiS has damaged democratic checks and balances by demolishing the independence of courts in the formerly communist country of 38 million people, the biggest on the bloc’s eastern rim.
Since joining the EU in 2004, Poland has been the top beneficiary of the bloc’s aid.
But in recent years, more nationalistic, eurosceptic and anti-German rhetoric from the PiS has increasingly put Warsaw on a collision course with the European Union.