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29th Nov 2021

EU top court orders Poland to pay €1m-a-day in rule-of-law row

  • Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki (r) with EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen at a previous summit (Photo: Council of the European Union)
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The European Court of Justice on Wednesday (27 October) ordered Poland to pay a €1m-per-day fine for not suspending the disciplinary chamber of its Supreme Court, which has been ruled a violation of EU law.

It is the latest episode in the long-running legal and political battle between the nationalist government led by the Law and Justice party (PiS) and EU institutions over Warsaw's judicial overhaul.

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Poland has said the reforms are needed to rid the courts of any remaining communist heritage.

However, the commission and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said that parts of the changes violate EU rules and undermine judicial independence.

The row heated up in July, when the ECJ ordered the country to suspend the disciplinary chamber, which critics plus the court said is used to silence critical judges.

After Poland did not suspend the camber, the commission in September asked the court to impose a daily penalty on Warsaw.

The Polish disciplinary chamber was set up in 2018, and is able to dismiss judges and prosecutors.

Poland has said it will abolish the chamber as part of broader reforms, but has not yet presented detailed plans.

Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the Financial Times earlier this week that his government will move forward with the legislation before the end of the year.

The ECJ in its statement said that Poland will have to pay until it complies with the ruling.

Poland's deputy justice minister Sebastian Kaleta on Wednesday tweeted that the demand was "usurpation and blackmail".

"The ECJ completely disregards and ignores the Polish constitution and the judgments of the Constitutional Tribunal. It operates outside its competences and abuses the institution of financial penalties and interim measures," he said.

The latest move by the EU top court comes after Poland's Constitutional Tribunal, in a ruling, questioned the supremacy of parts of EU rules over domestic national laws.

That ruling provoked outrage among most EU leaders at their summit last week in Brussels - although Hungary's Viktor Orbán backed the Polish position.

The ECJ in September also ordered Poland to pay a €500,000 per day fine for failing to comply with a ruling to shut down its Turow lignite mine, which the Czech Republic says is draining water reserves from the border region.

Poland has refused the pay the penalty, and according to Bloomberg, the commission is threatening to block budget payments over the issue.

Poland vows not to give into EU 'blackmail' at summit

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte suggested Poland's Covid-19 recovery money should not be approved until Warsaw respects the rulings of the European Court of Justice and dispels doubts about the independence of its judiciary.

Von der Leyen vows action against Poland

Ursula von der Leyen said the commission might use either an infringement procedure, an EU probe into the ruling, the new tool of conditionality which could lead to the suspension of EU funds, or the Article 7 sanctions procedure.

Poland questions EU legal primacy in court ruling

Poland's Constitutional Tribunal has ruled that parts of EU treaties were incompatible with the Polish constitution, in a major escalation of the rule-of-law dispute between Warsaw and Brussels.

Opinion

Poland vs EU - is a compromise possible?

To understand why Law and Justice believes its reforms are required, it is useful to look back at the collapse of communism in 1989. Did Poland consolidate liberal democracy after 1989?

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