Poland Takes First Step to Back Law Opening Access to EU Aid

(Bloomberg) -- A bill that promises to give Poland’s government access to billions of euros in European Union aid cleared its first hurdle on Friday after the ruling party secured a majority in parliament to push on with the legislation.

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The lower house voted 203-52, with 189 abstentions, in favor of sending the bill to the upper house, which is controlled by the opposition. Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek, the cabinet minister who helped negotiate a deal last month to release €35.4 billion ($38.4 billion) in post-pandemic funding by reversing changes to the judiciary, warned in an interview that the government will struggle to adopt the law.

The legislation is an attempt by the ruling Law & Justice party to alleviate a years-long legal battle with the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, over rule-of-law standards. It would reverse changes to Poland’s judicial system, which the EU said politicized an institution that should be free from meddling.

The European Commission welcomed today’s move, seeing it as “an important step” toward Poland’s complying with its commitments, Christian Wigand, a spokesman for the body, said after the vote.

“It will be important that the final law as adopted raises the standards on judicial protection and judicial independence,” he said.

The opposition, which also criticizes Law & Justice’s judicial overhaul, proposed amendments that the ruling party has rejected, while lawmakers close to eurosceptic Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro dismissed the deal with Brussels as unconstitutional. Polish President Andrzej Duda pledged to veto the bill if it doesn’t meet his prerogatives for appointing judges and urged the parliament to introduce changes.

The ruling party views the release of the EU funds as critical for regaining support before general elections expected in October as Poles confront soaring energy costs and a teetering economy.

--With assistance from Maciej Onoszko and Natalia Drozdiak.

(Adds comment from the European Commission in fourth and fifth paragraphs)

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