EU’s executive backs linking funds to rule of law: official

EU commissioners on Wednesday came out in favour of tying pay-outs of funds to the observance of the rule of law in member states, a senior official said, signalling a move that is strongly opposed by Warsaw.

European Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said EU bosses would make a final decision next week on introducing conditions for pay-outs of the bloc’s funds, a step which could see Poland take a big financial hit.

Jourova was speaking after the European Commission, the EU’s executive, on Wednesday held a debate on the bloc’s budget after 2020.

Poland’s PAP news agency said it had been told by a European Commission source that under the plans, EU cohesion funds could be frozen for a country considered not to have independent courts, as could Common Agricultural Policy funds.

Warsaw has been locked in a row with Brussels about sweeping changes to courts in Poland.

Poland’s governing conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party has said far-reaching changes are needed to reform an inefficient and sometimes corrupt judicial system tainted by the communist past.

The party has accused judges of being a self-serving clique often out of touch with the problems of ordinary citizens.

But opponents have accused Law and Justice of aiming to stack courts with its own candidates and to dismantle the rule of law.

The European Commission in December took the unprecedented step of triggering Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Poland.

The move means that the EU’s executive wants the bloc’s member states to declare the rule of law in Poland is under threat.

Such a step could pave the way for sanctions being imposed on Poland, for example suspending its voting rights in the European Union. But penalties on Warsaw would have to be backed unanimously by EU member states, while Hungary has said it would not support sanctions.

The EU’s next budget is expected to be unveiled on May 2.

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