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Top EU official says decisions coming next week on the release of massive funds for Poland

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The head of the European Union’s powerful Commission announced on Friday in Warsaw that decisions will be taken soon to release billions of euros to Poland, funds frozen by the bloc over the previous Polish government’s anti-EU policies.

Ursula von der Leyen said she had “good news” and that the decision to release 137 billion euros (about $148 billion) will be made next week in Brussels. She spoke following talks with Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who welcomed the announcement and said this “heap of money will be spent well.”

“I have this deep conviction as a Pole that we are restoring historic justice toward a country, toward a nation that in recent decades has done more for the rule of law, for democracy than anybody else in the world,” Tusk said.

He was referring to Poland’s history of ousting communist rule in 1989 and subsequently joining of NATO and the EU, as well as last year’s parliamentary elections. The vote saw a record high turnout of over 74%, removed the EU-sceptic government and replaced it with a pro-EU one.

Von der Leyen said the EU leaders were “impressed by your efforts and those of the Polish people to restore the rule of law as the backbone of your society,”

“These are momentous times in Poland for the promotion of democratic values,” von der Leyen said.

She said the money will be coming from the EU’s Next Generation fund meant to help bloc’s members to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic downturn and also from the cohesion fund, that supports infrastructure development.

Some 1.4 billion euros ( $1.5 billion) will go to the farmers who are protesting tax-free imports of neighboring Ukraine’s produce into Europe, saying that brings down their prices and undercuts their livelihood.

Tusk, a former EU Council chief, had hinted earlier this week that steps his government was taking to reverse the questionable policies of its right-wing predecessors would soon allow for the bloc to release the funds.

Brussels froze pandemic recovery and cohesion funds for Poland amid a standoff with the previous EU-sceptic administration. It also launched a process that could lead to sanctions on any EU member disrespecting the democratic values of the 27-member bloc.

Shortly after Tusk’s pro-EU Cabinet took office in December, Brussels released some 5 billion euros ($5.4 billion) for Poland for clean energy projects. Poland is to hold local elections in April, which could further strengthen the current government’s standing across the country.

Von der Leyen was accompanied on the visit by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, whose country currently hold EU presidency. The two EU officials and Tusk also discussed European security issues and support for Ukraine as it’s fending off Russia’s invasion.

Standing next to Tusk and von der Leyen, De Croo commended the Poles for having embarked with determination on a path back toward EU values and policies.

Poland’s pro-European coalition of three center-left parties led by Tusk won parliamentary elections Oct.15 and took over in December, succeeding a right-wing government of Law and Justice that had ruled for eight years and introduced changes to the justice system, reproductive rights in Poland and the media that put Warsaw on a collision course with the EU.

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