Poland warns of repercussions if Brussels keeps blocking funds

FILE PHOTO: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen poses with Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 1, 2022. Virginia Mayo/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland could hit back at the European Union if it does not pay out its share of pandemic recovery funds, ruling party politicians have said after Brussels signalled it was not satisfied with Warsaw's latest judicial reforms.

More than 35 billion euros ($36 billion) of COVID-19 recovery grants and loans had been put on hold due to a dispute over the reforms to the judiciary in Poland which the EU executive says subvert democratic standards.

In June, the European Commission (EC) approved funds for Poland, but its head Ursula von der Leyen said more work needed to be done on the rule of law during a visit, when she met with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party said, however, that its flagship reforms aim at making the system more efficient and denied meddling with the courts for political gain.

"If there is an attempt to block the payment ... and the European Commission tries to pressure us, then we have no choice but to pull out all the cannons in our arsenal and respond with barrage fire," Krzysztof Sobolewski, PiS secretary general told Polish public radio.

However PiS has not said what actions it may be considering.

Poland adopted a law in May that replaced a controversial disciplinary chamber for judges with a new body, and on Tuesday the Supreme Court drew candidates to the new chamber from among its judges.

But von der Leyen said in an interview at the end of July that the new law did not give judges the right to question judicial appointments without facing disciplinary proceedings, an issue which should be solved to obtain the EU funds.

Commission spokesperson Arianna Podesta said the new law was an important step but the EU's preliminary assessment was that it does not allow judges to question the status of another judge without risking disciplinary proceedings.

"This issue ... has to be addressed for the recovery and resilience plan commitments to be met ... No official assessment has been made, because there's no payment request made by Poland so far," Podesta said during a briefing.

Warsaw's refusal to comply with EU demands on the rule of law has fuelled criticism among opposition politicians that PiS could eventually seek to take Poland out of the bloc, something the government denies.

($1 = 0.9770 euros)

(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Anna Koper and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by David Holmes)

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