VVěra Jourová, the EU Commission Vice-President responsible for values and transparency, said it was a “real mess” when she arrived in Luxembourg on Tuesday morning. The EU ministers of the member states met, and once again the rule of law in Poland was on the agenda. However, not the latest twist in this saga to which the Czech commissioner was referring.
The day before, a spokesman had confirmed that the Commission was currently unable to pay out any funds from the multi-billion euro cohesion fund to Poland. He gave an astonishing reason for this: “In its self-assessment, Poland has indicated that it does not meet the basic requirement – (compliance with) the Charter of Fundamental Rights.”
“When I first heard that yesterday, I thought it was a misunderstanding,” admitted Jourová. Many in Brussels felt the same way: It is unusual for the government in Warsaw, led by the national conservative PiS party, to admit that it does not meet the basic requirements of the rule of law. For this reason, proceedings are pending before the European Court of Justice against the country. In one case, Poland pays one million euros every day because it cannot guarantee the independence of judges. The country always claims before the court that it is right. And publicly the government talks about a big conspiracy against them.
The big pots are initially denied to Poland
As the FAZ learned from the commission, Warsaw actually declared at a technical meeting in July that it did not meet the requirements of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. In particular, the government admitted that it could not guarantee the right of every EU citizen to independent courts and a fair and impartial trial. When Member States access EU funds, they have to abide by the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which has been in force since 2009. This is regulated in detail in an ordinance that is renegotiated every seven years at the beginning of a new financial period. The currently valid version dates back to last year and has been significantly tightened under pressure from the European Parliament. The Commission not only has to check once, as before, whether a country is implementing the charter, but before each individual transfer.
The Polish government probably took its oath of disclosure on the assumption that it would put things right with a reform of the disciplinary system. The government committed itself to this at the end of June under massive pressure from Brussels. This, in turn, was necessary in order to access billions of euros in corona aid. However, the Commission quickly made it clear that the actual changes did not go far enough. At the end of August, this led to an outburst of anger from Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro: It was not the “bad Czech” Jourová who was responsible for the “money robbery”, but the German Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who was controlled from Berlin.
As a result, Warsaw now has two massive problems. On the one hand, it does not come close to 24 billion euros in grants and 12 billion euros in low-interest loans from the Corona reconstruction fund. On the other hand, Poland is also denied the large pots from which the convergence of living conditions in the member states is financed. In total, Poland is entitled to 76.5 billion euros there in the financial period up to 2027.
There is no formal decision by the EU Commission to freeze this money, as the Polish government spokesman correctly stated on Tuesday. Rather, Brussels is, according to its own diction, in a dialogue with Warsaw about how it could comply with the guarantees necessary for the payment. In fact, the billions are blocked until there is a “satisfactory” solution, as the Commission spokesman said. Brussels is concerned with “effective arrangements” to protect fundamental rights and a system for reporting violations.