Polish lawmakers approved a new law on Friday that the government hopes will appease the European Union and unlock billions of euros in financing.
The law, which could unfreeze $35 billion from Brussels’ Covid recovery fund, aims to improve accountability in the judiciary.
Brussels and Warsaw have been at odds for years over the ruling Justice and Development Party’s reforms to the justice system, which the European Union claims are undermining the country’s democracy, along with its rollback on media freedoms.
Poland has been denied access to EU aid by Brussels until it makes substantial changes.
The right-wing coalition government says the new law has been agreed with officials in Brussels and should lead to the release of a much-needed €1 billion.
Poland’s previous changes were not enough for the EU.
But the Minister of Justice, who introduced measures to increase political control over judges, opposed the changes. It threatened the future of the government, while President Andrzej Duda said he was not consulted about the new law.
The upcoming general election in the fall has given weight to this issue.
Polls indicate that the ruling coalition may lose control of Parliament, which means that the government is seeking EU funds, hoping to increase support from voters.
The House of Representatives voted 203-52 to approve the legislation, with 189 abstentions, reflecting divisions within the ruling coalition and suspicions of the opposition.
Opposition party chairman Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz was among those who abstained.
“This law does not restore the rule of law. It will only be possible after we do it,” he said before the vote in Parliament [the opposition] win the election.”
“But if this bill is an opportunity to free up European money, then it is really important,” Kosiniak-Kamis added.
It was not immediately clear if the EU would be satisfied with the changes, but a spokesperson for the European Commission told the Polish state news agency the law was an important step towards meeting EU standards.
“We will continue to closely monitor the next steps of the ongoing adoption process and then review the final approved law,” Christian Wiegand told PAP.