As Warsaw tries to unlock European Union money, Poland will inform the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) that it desires to join in the first weeks after a new government is formed, the man who is generally expected to be the next justice minister told Reuters.
Cases concerning the financial interests of the European Union are handled by the EPPO, an independent public prosecution office of the EU.
Of the bloc’s 27 member states, 22 have already joined.
However, Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government, embroiled in multiple spats with Brussels over reforms critics say undermine judicial independence, opted not to, citing fears of interference in the Polish justice system.
For Adam Bodnar, a senator from the liberal Civic Coalition (KO) grouping who local media have reported is now likely to become justice minister, joining the EPPO is a good faith move which can be implemented quickly in a bid to unblock billions in funds frozen by the EU due to concerns over democratic standards.
“There are plans to join,” Bodnar said. “It would be done in the first weeks of government.”
Asked to comment on reports that he will become justice minister, Bodnar said, “There are such discussions, but nothing is certain. The decision is in the hands of (KO leader) Donald Tusk.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda is a PiS ally, and he has given the party the first shot at forming a government. However, this seems practically impossible as it lacks a majority and all the other parties in parliament have ruled out working with it.
If PiS fails, this would open the way to a period of cohabitation in which the president and prime minister are from different political camps. Such an arrangement could complicate the incoming government’s efforts to undo PiS’s reforms, as the head of state can veto laws.
However, Bodnar, who in his previous role as Human Rights Ombudsman was a leading opponent of PiS’s court reforms, said joining the EPPO would not require Duda’s signature.
“For the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, joining only requires a letter from the prime minister,” he said. “Then the European Commission replies within four months … It is good from the side of the recovery fund money because it shows that we are more accountable.”
He said that he hoped EPPO prosecutors would come to Poland and investigate instances of alleged misuse of EU funds in public institutions such as the National Centre of Research and Development (NCBR).
Critics say that Poland’s prosecutor’s office became politicised under outgoing Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, making it unlikely to be able to deal effectively with cases of alleged wrongdoing by PiS and its allies in its current form.
“Most investigations should be done by Polish prosecutors,” Bodnar said. “But as long as a lot of the people in the prosecution service were appointed by Ziobro there is no real possibility of this. That’s why joining the EPPO would be good.”