Poland plays down possible EU budget cuts

Warsaw (AFP) –


Poland on Monday played down possible EU funding cuts over its controversial judicial reforms -- in addition to sanctions it already faces -- saying it sees room for negotiation over financial allocations.

Unveiling the 2021-27 budget last week, the European Union said it could "suspend, reduce or restrict access to EU funding in a manner proportionate to the nature, gravity and scope of the rule-of-law deficiencies."

Brussels has been highly critical of judicial and other changes pushed through by right-wing governments in Poland and Hungary, saying they undermine EU democratic norms.

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz however said he believed the EU's draft budget was "a good basis for further negotiations", according to the Polish PAP news agency.

"The funding cuts in policy areas that are key for us -- the common agricultural policy and cohesion policy -- are made to a small extent, while there are also new streams of financing for new activities," Czaputowicz said, adding that "Poland will also benefit from this."

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban warned Friday that Budapest could veto -- and thus torpedo -- the EU budget proposal.

Negotiations on the EU's trillion-euro-plus ($1.2 trillion) budget have been complicated by Britain's exit from the bloc, which leaves the remaining 27 member states fighting over how to raise and allocate funding.

During a visit to Austria on Monday, the Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini said all participants in the negotiations "should be more open" to compromise between net recipients and contributors to the budget.

"If certain countries are to receive less money in future, perhaps they should also be given more flexibility in return in terms of where and how they use their money," Pellegrini added.

The draft budget notably proposes cuts to farm support and cohesion monies -- used to help newer members conform to EU standards -- while offering new funding for economic modernisation and high-tech.

Brussels in December triggered Article 7 of the EU treaty over what it termed "systemic threats" to the independence of the Polish judiciary from the government -- a move that could lead to never-before-used sanctions.

EU Consumer Affairs Commissioner Vera Jourova "assured me that these (budget) proposals are not directed against any specific state, there is no connection with Article 7," Czaputowicz told PAP.