Polish Parliament approves judicial reforms to unblock EU funds

FILE PHOTO: Polish President Andrzej Duda addresses to lawmakers during a session of Ukrainian parliament, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 22, 2022. REUTERS/Stringer

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's Parliament on Thursday voted in favour of a bill that will replace a contested disciplinary chamber for judges with a new body, clearing the way for the country to get billions in COVID-19 recovery funds from Brussels.

More than 35 billion euros in grants and cheap loans were put on hold due to a dispute over the rule of law, but Warsaw now looks set to get the cash after agreeing on terms to unblock it with the European Commission.

Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said on Tuesday that approval for Poland's National Recovery Plan, which is necessary to unblock the money, was likely with days.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is expected to visit Warsaw on June 2 to mark the approval of the plan.

Nevertheless, critics of Poland's ruling nationalists say that the judicial reform bill, which was prepared by government ally President Andrzej Duda, does not go far enough in ensuring that judges are not subject to political pressure.

Poland's ruling coalition was split on how to implement the reform, with the arch-conservative United Poland party of Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, a junior partner in government, opposing plans for an impartiality test for judges it said could paralyse the court system.

In the final version of the bill the impartiality test cannot be used retrospectively on cases in which a verdict has been handed down.

"The final version of the adopted Act on the Supreme Court takes into account all the key reservations of United Poland to the project," deputy justice minister and United Poland lawmaker Sebastian Kaleta wrote on Twitter

The European Union had said Warsaw must implement a ruling from the bloc's top court that required it to dissolve the chamber in order to get the funds. The top court imposed fines on Poland of 1 million euros a day for failing to do so.

(Reporting by Alan Charlish; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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