Poland clings to pressure on EU rule of law – POLITICO

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is losing ground in opinion polls, but it is no longer losing ground in its rule of law dispute with the European Commission.

And there is no indication that the EU plans to release 35 billion euros in loans and grants from its pandemic recovery fund.

Warsaw has yet to officially ask Brussels to release the funds, which it pledged to do in July. The country’s Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy did not respond to a request for comment.

“The Polish government is digging and preparing a narrative about how the recovery fund is not really needed at all,” said Jakub Jaraczewski, research coordinator for Democracy Reporting International, an NGO. “They’re sort of preparing to lose him.”

There is no indication that either party is preparing to give in.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said last week that Poland had failed to meet EU “milestones” by reversing changes to the justice system that breached EU rules by placing the courts under stricter political control.

Poland’s ruling United Right coalition passed legislation on July 15 that goes along with the Commission’s demands by renaming a controversial chamber of the Supreme Court that disciplines judges. But those measures did not go far enough, von der Leyen told Polish newspaper Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

Poland has yet to reinstate the suspended judges and the country is still facing fines of one million euros a day for ignoring rulings on the judicial system from the Court of Justice of the EU.

“Poland must honor the commitments it has made to reform the system of disciplinary measures,” she said.

But Warsaw does not foresee any other measures to respect these commitments.

On Tuesday, Paweł Szrot, President Andrzej Duda’s chief of staff, told Polish television: “The President has already announced that he has stopped his activity in this area, the law has been passed, it has been presented to the institutions of the European Union”.

He reiterated the need for a bilateral compromise on the issue and added: “The President believes that this money should be given to Poland.”

A Commission spokesman declined to comment.

The issue is a political landmine for the government.

Inflation in Poland was 15.5% in July, one of the highest rates in the EU, and public finances are under increasing strain. Meanwhile, PiS, the main party in the ruling nationalist coalition, lost first place to the opposition party Civic Platform in a recent opinion poll. It’s a first since 2015 and comes ahead of parliamentary elections next year – with crucial EU money to revive his fortunes.

But getting that money would mean backing down on the government’s judicial reforms, which would be unpleasant for the party’s right-wing electorate.

“The party should admit defeat in a policy it has pursued since 2015,” said Jacek Kucharczyk, director of the Institute of Public Affairs, a Warsaw think tank. “It would be a blow to the credibility of the party and could lead to a real collapse in opinion polls.”

He said the Commission’s strong stance on the rule of law surprised Warsaw.

“The PiS understood that the agreement with the Commission was that it would pretend to cancel the reforms, and that Brussels would accept it. But the Commission came under such pressure that it hardened its position,” he said.

Now Warsaw is playing a waiting game with the Commission, hoping it will “burn out and throw in the towel by accepting the reforms and releasing the money”, Kucharczyk said.

“I think they’re digging,” Jaraczewski said. “The loser in this situation is of course the Polish people, who will not see this money.”

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