Payments were frozen after Polish prosecutors charged construction company executives following investigation into alleged price-fixing.
Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner for regional policy, is confident that suspended payments to Poland worth close to a billion euros will resume as early as March. The suspension has prompted protests from the Polish government.
The payments were frozen at the end of December after Polish prosecutors charged ten executives of construction companies following an investigation into alleged price-fixing. Charges have also been levelled at a senior official from Poland's general directorate of national roads and motorways, which manages the construction of the country's road network. The 11 men are alleged to have colluded in bids for highway construction contracts financed with EU money. Following the indictments, the Commission followed its standard procedure with allegations of misconduct, and froze €950 million in outstanding reimbursements to the Polish authorities for road-building works. A spokeswoman for Hahn stressed that the money is not lost to Poland, but will be made available only after the authorities have demonstrably and effectively reviewed ongoing projects to identify possible other cases of fraud, and established an adequate control system.
Poland's ministry for regional development described the suspension as “incomprehensible and inappropriate”, and said that the alleged fraud concerned just €123m in EU funding. Hahn met Elzbieta Bienkowska, Poland's minister for regional development, and Slawomir Nowak, minister for transport, in Brussels last Friday (1 February) for talks on the issue. He said after the meeting that it was “not unlikely” that payments would resume in March provided the Polish authorities submit the required documentation.
Poland has a strong track record in using EU regional funds. Hahn said after his meeting with the two ministers that Poland's system of implementing and monitoring EU funds was “working very well” and “could serve as a model for other countries”.
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