Polish president criticizes EU’s executive for blocking funds

WARSAW (Reuters) -Polish President Andrzej Duda on Sunday criticized the European Commission for blocking EU funds in what he said had been “an attempt to force Poland to change” its government, adding he was open to negotiations over changes in the justice system.

Poland’s last government led by the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party was embroiled in a dispute with the European Union over Warsaw’s judicial reforms and the rule of law, resulting in billions of EU funds for Poland being frozen.

The new pro-EU government has pledged to regain access to the money by restoring the rule of law, but it faces resistance from supporters and allies of the former ruling party, including Duda and some high-profile judges.

“I have no doubts what the point was of blocking the money from the National Recovery Plan by the European Commission. It was a purely political action against the previous Polish authorities,” Duda said during a press conference in Vilnius.

“An attempt to force Poland to change its authorities, and that’s how I perceived it, that’s how I perceive it, and the current events only confirm it,” he added.

A European Commision spokesperson said that there was work to be done with Poland so that all the milestones under the Recovery and Resilience Facility are satisfied. 

“The Polish government has expressed its readiness to work with the Commission to fully address the milestones on judicial independence,” the spokesperson said in a response to Reuters’ request for a comment.

Duda also said he was open to negotiations and proposals for various changes in the Polish justice system, but he would not allow any verification of judges who were appointed during his term.

The Oct. 15 election ended eight years of PiS rule and a new government led by former European Council president Donald Tusk has vowed to regain access to the EU funds.

In December, the European Commission said it would transfer 5 billion euros ($5.45 billion) to Warsaw from Poland’s 60 billion-euro share of the bloc’s COVID-19 recovery stimulus.

On Saturday, Polish Funds and Regional Policy Minister Katarzyna Pelczynska-Nalecz told private television TVN24 that Poland has met conditions to submit documents crucial for getting access to the EU’s Structural Funds.

($1 = 0.9177 euros)

(Reporting by Anna Koper; Editing by Susan Fenton)