Poland: When European taxpayers’ money finances the erosion of democracy


Paris, Brussels, Warsaw, 10 October 2023. In a report published today, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) exposes a pattern of systemic abuse of public funds by Polish authorities. These funds include European Union (EU) funds, which continue to be received by Poland despite outright violations of the rule of law. Thus, by financing the Polish government, European taxpayers’ money is used to indirectly support democratic backsliding and the breach of human rights in Poland.

A few days before general elections that are crucial for democracy in Poland, the FIDH, its member organisation in Poland, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR), and the Institute of Public Finance (IFP), release a report today titled "Don’t Let Money Rule the Law: how the Polish government uses public and EU funds to destroy the rule of law".

The report, written in collaboration with Polish civil society organisations and investigative journalists, shows how the Polish government, by gradually dismantling the rule of law and undermining checks and balances since 2015, has created the conditions for systemic corruption, fraud and other abuse of public finances.

EU funds used to reward political loyalty in Poland’s descent into illiberalism

FIDH’s findings point to substantial portions of the Polish public budget, including EU funds managed by national authorities, escaping any effective oversight from the national Parliament and other control mechanisms. Some of this money is used in turn to finance front organisations or entities with close ties to the government, often run by childhood friends, spouses, or family members of politicians from the ruling coalition. The Polish government has refused to engage with FIDH throughout the investigation.

“The taxpayers’ money should be used to fund public services, fight climate change, bolster economic and social resilience, guarantee judicial independence, and strengthen democracy and human rights across the continent," says Elena Crespi, Western Europe Programme Director at FIDH. "Instead, today in Poland, European funds are being used to undermine the very principles that underpin the European Union and its democracies.”

“Although the European Union has had Poland under close scrutiny for years, all its measures and actions so far have failed to halt the backsliding orchestrated by the Polish government,” explains Eliza Rutynowska, Western Europe Programme Officer at FIDH. "We urge the EU and Member States to use all the instruments at their disposal, including financial ones, to demand that Poland complies with EU law and values.”

Besides stepping up the Article 7 procedure – by which the EU inspects Member States’ compliance with EU law and values – the report argues that the EU should activate the conditionality mechanism, a new tool meant to protect the EU’s financial interests against breaches of rule of law taking place inside a member state.

"Transparency of public finances and democratic control over the national budget are indispensable elements of rule of law”, adds Sławomir Dudek, President and chief economist at IPF. “This includes national funds, which must also be managed according to democratic standards. European institutions should monitor in detail the transparency of public finances, and the extent of democratic control over national public finances in all member countries".

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