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EU agrees to release billions in Polish aid blocked in rule-of-law row

23.02.2024 13:00
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in Warsaw on Friday that Brussels would release up to EUR 137 billion in Polish aid blocked as a result of a long-standing dispute over the rule of law.
Polands Prime Minister Donald Tusk and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen meet in Warsaw on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.
Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen meet in Warsaw on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.Photo: PAP/Leszek Szymański

At a joint news conference with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, von der Leyen praised Warsaw’s efforts to restore the rule of law after what officials say were years of democratic backsliding under the country's previous government.

The announcement came as von der Leyen was visiting Warsaw together with Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo for talks with Polish leaders.

The visit focused on the Polish government's efforts to end a protracted row with Brussels over judicial changes, officials told reporters.

Earlier this week, Poland's Justice Minister Adam Bodnar attended a meeting of the EU's General Affairs Council in Brussels, where he laid out a plan to reverse a massive legal overhaul carried out by Poland's previous right-wing government.

The European Commission says Poland's previous government, which was in power from 2015 to 2023, brought the courts and judges under political control and undermined democratic checks and balances.

Legal changes made by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party and its allies put Poland on a collision course with the European Union and triggered a series of clashes between Warsaw and Brussels.

As a result, the EU executive held back billions in funds intended for Poland under the bloc's post-pandemic recovery package.

Poland's new pro-EU government pledged to restore judicial independence and persuade Brussels to release the funds.

'Protesting farmers in Poland are not against Ukraine': PM

Friday's talks in Warsaw also touched on farmers' protests and the EU's continued support of Ukraine as it battles Russia's ongoing invasion, officials told reporters.

Polish farmers have blocked the country's border with Ukraine and disrupted traffic nationwide in an intensifying protest against what they say are unfair European Union policies leading to an influx of cheap produce from Ukraine. 

Tusk said on Friday, as quoted by his office: "The farmers' protest has deep justification. It is dramatic because part of the protest is taking place at the border with Ukraine. I want to emphasise that the protesting farmers in Poland are not against Ukraine. These are very often the same people who have helped in the last two years to refugees from Ukraine."

Addressing von der Leyen and De Croo, the Polish prime minister added: "I would like you to know that Polish farmers are fighting for only one thing - to compete on equal terms. We cannot help Ukraine and, at the same time, sacrifice the fundamental interests of Poles and Europeans. It is in the interests of Europe and Ukraine that everyone emerges victorious from this situation, in friendship and solidarity."

Belgium's De Croo was expected to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda later in the day.

After their visit to Warsaw, von der Leyen and De Croo will travel to Kyiv to mark the second anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, public broadcaster Polish Radio’s IAR news agency reported.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, starting the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War II.

Friday is day 730 of Russia’s war on Ukraine.


Source: IAR, PAP