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Poland eyes €36bn of EU recovery cash despite last year's veto

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Poland eyes €36bn of EU recovery cash despite last year's veto
Copyright  Czarek Sokolowski/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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Poland wants to spend €36 billion in European money aimed at mitigating the impact of the pandemic, even though it blocked the original proposal over concerns at a so-called rule of law mechanism.

Warsaw - together with Budapest - was previously opposed to the punitive apparatus designed to stop the funds from being given out if member states are found to have violated the bloc's democratic principles.

Poland's ruling Law & Justice (PiS) party is even promoting the use of European money, despite its initial opposition and the fact that the issue has caused tensions within its governing coalition.

The smaller government party opposes the recovery fund, saying it is a tool to create a more federalist Europe.

"There is already a big promotion campaign showing that this will be a very substantial amount of money for the Polish economy, but the coalition partner, led by the justice minister Ziobro, opposed it mainly on the terms of being anti-European, bringing more competencies to the European level," Michal Baranowski, director of the German Marshall Fund in Warsaw told Euronews.

Of the €36 billion, €12.1 billion is in loans and €23.9 billion is in grants, with one of the main goals behind the plan being to strengthen the Polish economy.

A large part of this will go towards the digital and green energy transitions, including the construction of wind farms and the development of the country's 5G infrastructure.

There will also be funds committed to making the transport system more sustainable and boosting the country's healthcare system.

Warsaw will be able to allocate extra money from the so-called Just Transition Fund too, which is designed to help member states move towards carbon neutrality without too much economic damage.

In Poland's case, this will be used to phase out its highly polluting coal industry.

Baranowski says this might take decades though, due to the political complications.

"Coal is not just a source of energy, it's an aspect of the Polish energy security, but it's of course a huge employer. So, it means jobs that are well paid relatively and concentrated in a politically important region of Sylezia. No previous government has been able to reform the coal industry. At the same time, we have an increasing consensus that Poland has to go green," he told Euronews.

But some funds could be withdrawn from Warsaw, if and when the rule of law mechanism comes into place, which is currently being examined by the European Court of Justice to determine its legality.

Big questions over the independence of the judiciary and media in Poland still remain and won't be going away any time soon.

"That conditionality is there, and it will be really up to the Commission how it will implement this in the European Recovery Fund," Baranowski explained.