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Brussels has backed the advance payment of €5.1bn to Poland under long-delayed EU pandemic recovery funds, ahead of the anticipated return to office of premier Donald Tusk in Warsaw.
The approval paves the way for the first payout since recovery funds were frozen in 2021 over rule of law concerns under Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government. But last month Tusk led a pro-European coalition to victory in parliamentary elections, pledging to restore the independence of judges and unblock his country’s share of EU funding once in office.
In total, Poland is expected to receive some €60bn of the EU’s recovery fund. The bulk of these grants and loans can only be released once Warsaw rolls back judicial reforms the European Commission has said have limited the independence of judges.
Those conditions do not apply to the tranche approved on Tuesday, which is part of a more recent package of emergency measures linked to energy and the green transition, in the context of additional costs prompted by the war in Ukraine.
EU commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said requirements relating to “important aspects of independence of Poland’s judiciary and some other elements remain unchanged”. The regular tranches of EU funding would only be disbursed “once those super milestones will be fully and correctly implemented”, said Dombrovskis.
Tusk’s election victory was seen as pivotal to repositioning Poland in the EU. A former president of the European Council in 2014-2019, Tusk went to Brussels shortly after his win to convince EU officials to release the frozen funding swiftly. He said that “all methods, including non-standard ones, must be used to save the money that Poland deserves”.
Even though the advance payment is not expected to reach Poland until January — by which time Tusk is expected to be in office — PiS has sought to take credit for finally unlocking some EU money.
Grzegorz Puda, the outgoing minister for development funds, welcomed the decision and called it “the result of many months of work and very effective actions”.
In August, the Polish government changed its spending plan for the recovery funds — which is what the commission approved on Tuesday, allowing it to unblock the advance tranche of payment.
The pre-financing still needs to be approved by the other EU member states, which is likely to take place at the next finance ministers’ meeting in early December.
The commission said that the advance tranche would later be deducted from Poland’s future payment requests, which are tied to the judicial reforms.
Caretaker prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki is set to make one final attempt to form another PiS government in the coming days, but he has no obvious path to a parliamentary majority. Tusk, once granted his chance to get voted by parliament into office, can count on the support of 248 of the 460 legislators in the Sejm, the lower house of Poland’s parliament.
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