Two German MEPs played a key role in lobbying the European Commission to block vital Covid-19 recovery funds intended for Hungary and Poland, an exposé in Germany’s Der Spiegel newspaper has revealed.
Ralf Neukirch, the newspaper’s Berlin correspondent, revealed how Daniel Freund of the German Green party and Moritz Körner of the liberal Free Democratic Party exerted pressure on the European Commission to take strict measures against Poland and Hungary over alleged breaches of the EU’s rule-of-law mechanism, at a time when the EU executive and some EU parliamentary parties were willing to show more leniency on the issue.
Their persistence, back in December 2020, reportedly led to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen refusing to green-light the recovery funds for the two nations, Neukirch wrote.
Von der Leyen, who had initially adopted a more conciliatory stance on the issue and wanted to reach an understanding, finally had to succumb to pressure from the two MEPs to make payment conditional on milestones being reached by the two nations in their disputes with the European Commission.
“The two MEPs’ battle for more adherence to the rule of law forced von der Leyen to finally confront Poland and Hungary. The commission’s current clampdown on EU funding for both countries is, among others, the effect of this duo’s perseverance,” Neukirch claimed.
Poland is in a long-running dispute with the European Commission over judicial reforms the commission believes could restrict the independence of the judiciary. Poland’s failure to comply with the commission’s recommendations in the matter resulted in its funding from the post-Covid recovery fund being blocked. A bill amending current judicial legislation in line with EU demands — which would unblock the funding — was recently passed by the Polish parliament, but has been sent to the Polish constitutional court for further review by Poland’s President Andrzej Duda.
Commenting on Der Spiegel’s report, Grzegorz Puda, Poland’s minister for funding and regional policy, said it was “no secret” that German MEPs were behind the stoppage of the post-pandemic aid for Poland “under the pretense of concern over the rule of law.” He added that the government remains in dialog with the European Commission on the matter.
In a Radio 3 interview on Monday, the press spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Łukasz Jasina, expressed dismay over the Der Spiegel article. He said that if the revelations are accurate, it shows that decisions were not taken on a substantive basis but a purely political one, and insisted it was entirely unfair to Poland to be treated in such a way.