EU official says Poland’s judiciary changes insufficient

WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- A patched-up dispute between the European Union and Poland over judicial independence revived Thursday when a top EU official said new Polish regulations did not meet expectations, threatening the flow of billions of euros in recovery funds to Warsaw. The new regulations that abolish a controversial, politicized body that disciplined judges were signed into law by Polish President Andrzej Duda and will take effect July 15. But they introduce a new body of judicial accountability, to be appointed by the president.

Poland is also expected to take other steps, or "milestones," to ensure judicial independence before it could receive any of the frozen funds totaling about 36 billion euros (£39 billion).

Vera Jourova, Vice-President of the European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, said the new regulations "do not meet" the required criteria and the funds will not be paid before Poland's judges have their independence guaranteed in a legally binding way. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Poland will fight to defend its point of view. "I am of good faith that at the end of this year, or early next year, the first recovery funds will be disbursed for specified projects in Poland," Morawiecki said.

He also used the current threat to Europe's security posed by Russia's invasion of Ukraine as an argument for overcoming discords and disputes.

Media reports say Morawiecki is facing harsh criticism from his ruling right-wing Law and Justice party whose members and ministers say he had not consulted with them on the terms agreed on with the EU.

The commission has conditionally approved Poland's recovery plan, which is a step toward the disbursement of the frozen funds. But the changes that are to take effect next month are largely seen as superficial and retaining political control over judges. The EU's chief executive, Ursula von der Leyen, warned this month that no money will be disbursed if Poland fails to reach the "milestones" which are: abolishing the disciplinary chamber, rewriting its rules and allowing judges sanctioned or suspended by the chamber to have their cases reviewed.

Von der Leyen has faced criticism from centrist lawmakers in the European Parliament who argued that paving the way for disbursement of funds to Poland was premature as Warsaw has failed to address most EU conditions.

The Disciplinary Chamber, to be abolished next month, has cost Poland dearly.

The European Court of Justice fined Poland last tear a record 1 million euros per day for failing to dismantle it.