Poland snubs EU moves to link subsidies to rule of law

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said Warsaw would "not accept" an EU move to link subsidies to a country's respect for the rule of law

Poland intends to reject moves by the European Union to make the disbursement of subsidies depend on a member state's respect for the rule of law, its foreign minister said Friday.

Last month the EU launched unprecedented disciplinary proceedings over Warsaw's judicial reforms, which Brussels insists threaten democracy by putting the courts under government control.

But Warsaw says the reforms are needed to overhaul a system still haunted by the communist era.

EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova announced on Wednesday that she had been tasked with "proposing a framework that would highlight the need to respect the rule of law" in order to benefit from European funding in the bloc's next 2021-27 budget.

Poland has been the largest recipient of EU funds among newcomers to the bloc, having been allocated 86 billion euros in the 2014-2020 budget.

"Poland will certainly not accept this kind of move -- I think this isn't in line with EU rules. Structural funds aren't charity, they are a means to achieve equal opportunity and they are paid according to the revenue of a given state," Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said Friday, quoted by the Polish PAP news agency.

The right-wing government argues that by joining the EU in 2004, Warsaw opened its market to foreign companies that "derive substantial profits" as a consequence.

"In exchange, Poland got the right to compensation in the form of EU structural funds," he added, noting that subsidies would decrease with time as the Polish economy expands.

For her part, Jourova said Wednesday: "we're not talking about conditionality... but I was asked for a framework, a definition that would highlight the fact that all member states must have a judiciary that works independently," she said.

On February 27, member states will hold their first ministerial meeting with Poland since the EU triggered the proceedings.

Never before used against an EU member state, the so-called article 7 proceedings could lead to the "nuclear option" of the suspension of a country's voting rights within the bloc.

This, however, is unlikely to happen as Poland's ally Hungary has already vowed to veto the measure.

The EU has given Warsaw three months to remedy the situation, saying it could withdraw the measures if it did.