BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission could approve the EU-funded national stimulus plans for Poland and Hungary in November, but will set conditions linked to respect for the rule of law for the release of EU funds, European officials said.
The plans of Poland and Hungary and 25 other European Union countries are part of the bloc’s â¬ 800 billion program to revive the EU economy after the coronavirus pandemic through grants and very cheap loans to be disbursed until 2026.
If approved, Poland could get 23 billion euros in EU grants and 34 billion euros in cheap loans, while Hungary can expect 7.2 billion euros in grants over the next few years. years.
But while the plans of 19 other countries have already been given the green light and the first billion in pre-financing disbursed, Warsaw and Budapest have been waiting for a green light for months.
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Commission approval is blocked because the EU believes ruling parties in both countries are undermining the independence of courts, media and non-governmental organizations and, in Hungary, have a corruption problem.
Poland’s right-wing nationalist government also refuses to implement the verdicts of the EU’s highest court.
These shortcomings have been identified in what the EU calls the country-specific recommendations issued by the Commission each year to all EU members. Taking these recommendations into account is a condition for the approval of EU grants and loans under the recovery program.
To further strengthen the link between respect for the EU principle of democratic division of powers, the bloc agreed to protect EU money from abuse through a special rule of law mechanism that came into effect. effective January 1.
Unhappy with the link between respect for the rule of law and access to EU money, Poland and Hungary challenged the mechanism before the EU’s highest court in March and the Commission said that she would wait for the verdict before applying the law.
The verdict is expected by the end of the year or early 2022.
But under pressure from the European Parliament, which wants the law to be implemented as soon as possible, the Commission is expected to launch the first legal steps under the mechanism in the coming weeks, EU officials said.
Access to billions of euros from the EU’s stimulus fund is crucial for the highly Eurosceptic ruling coalition in Poland to consolidate its waning support ahead of the next 2023 elections, as well as for the right-wing Fidesz party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. , which faces elections in April 2022.
(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; editing by Mark Heinrich)
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