New Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have announced that the first €5 billion for Poland from the EU’s post-pandemic recovery fund will be paid by the end of this year – in what Tusk described as a “Christmas present”.
The pair also revealed that the new Polish government has submitted an application for access to further funds that were frozen under the former Law and Justice (PiS) administration – which left office this week – due to Brussels’ concerns over the rule of law.
“By the end of this year, we will receive the first €5 billion – you could say symbolically under the Christmas tree,” said Tusk in Brussels today, speaking alongside von der Leyen.
„Prezent pod choinkę”. 5 miliardów euro dla Polski https://t.co/7F4m9asqgq pic.twitter.com/6BK4l6Fvh3
— Wirtualna Polska (@wirtualnapolska) December 15, 2023
The funds he was referring to come from part of the post-pandemic recovery fund that is separate from the larger amount of money frozen over rule-of-law concerns. Approval for those payments – which are to support energy security – was made last week, when PiS was still in power.
But Tusk also confirmed that his government – which was sworn into office on Wednesday – has now an application for payments from the previously frozen funds.
In Warsaw, the new minister for funds and regional policy, Katarzyna Pełczyńska-Nałęcz, announced today that she had signed a request for €6.9 billion.
Nasze pieniądze wreszcie ruszyły! Na dzień dobry 22 miliardy PLN, jeszcze w tym roku! Wniosek o kolejne 30 już złożony. CDN
— Donald Tusk (@donaldtusk) December 15, 2023
In her remarks, von der Leyen noted that, in order to unlock that money, Poland still needs to “address the milestones on judicial independence [agreed with the former PiS government] so that we can then proceed with the first payment”.
However, she told Tusk that she “welcomes your commitment to put the rule of law at the top of the government agenda and your determination to address all of the concerns that have been expressed by the European Court [of Justice] and by the commission”.
von der Leyen added that she “wishes you and your government full success and [you can] rest assured that the commission stands by your side”.
In comments earlier this week, the EU’s budget commissioner, Johannes Hahn, said that Brussels “will find ways to help Poland” now that a new government is in power, including by unblocking frozen funds.
Dear @donaldtusk, your personal commitment and EU experience will be invaluable in these challenging times.
We have a lot of work ahead of us and I’m happy to do that alongside you ↓
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) December 15, 2023
In his remarks today, Tusk said that, when it comes to unlocking the funds, “the key was restoring the rule of law. Without this, the European Commission would not have decided to make the first payments”.
However, figures from the former PiS government pointed out that Tusk’s new government has not yet implemented any policies relating to the rule of law.
“The only thing that has changed so far is the government,” tweeted former justice minister Sebastian Kaleta. “So Tusk openly admitted that in the eyes of the [commission] the only violation of the rule of law was an inappropriate government, and all these milestones are miserable political blackmail.”
PiS always argued that Brussels had frozen Poland’s funds not due to genuine concerns over the rule of law, but to put political pressure on Poland’s former conservative government and to help Tusk come to power in October’s elections.
„Kluczem było przewrócenie reguł praworządności”. Sejm żadnego prawa nie zmienił z tego obszaru. Jedyne co się zmieniło póki co to rząd. Zatem Tusk wprost przyznał, że w oczach KE jedynym naruszeniem praworządności był niewłaściwy rząd, a wszystkie te kamienie milowe to nędzny… https://t.co/fq9zQCWuF6
— Sebastian Kaleta (@sjkaleta) December 15, 2023
However, Tusk’s government has acknowledged that it needs to meet the EU’s milestones and other expectations.
On Wednesday, the new justice minister, Adam Bodnar, announced he would set up a special team to coordinate efforts to restore the rule of law, and “especially to [meet] the EU’s recommendations”.
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Main image credit: PremierRP/X
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.