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1st Jul 2022

EU Commission wants daily fines against Poland in judges row

  • EU Commission vice-president Věra Jourová (in white) on her recent visit to Poland met with prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki and other Polish top officials (Photo: European Commission)
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The EU Commission on Tuesday (7 September) asked the EU's top court to impose daily fines against Poland, for ignoring the court's earlier order concerning the independence of the country's judiciary.

The request came after the European Court of Justice on 14 July ordered Poland to "immediately suspend the application of national provisions relating in particular to the powers of the disciplinary chamber of the Supreme Court".

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A day later, 15 July, the EU top court ruled that the domestic disciplinary regime in Poland for judges is not compatible with EU law.

Many judges have said the disciplinary chamber has been used to silence judges who have been critical of the nationalist Warsaw government's overhaul of the judiciary.

Such interim measures, like the one issued on 14 July, are used by the court to intervene when it thinks there is an urgent need to act.

The commission has now asked the court to set a daily fine against Poland for not respecting this interim measure, and - in a separate decision - launched an infringement procedure asking for the full implementation of the 15 July ruling, which can also end up in court.

EU commission vice-president Věra Jourová said that "the rulings of the European Court of Justice must be respected across the EU".

"This is a must to build and nurture the necessary mutual trust between member states and citizens alike. We remain ready to work with Polish authorities to find the way out of this crisis," she tweeted.

The move comes after the commission gave Poland until 16 August to explain how and under what timeline will they implement two decisions by the court from July.

The Polish authorities have responded and said they would amend the law. Commission officials, however, have said that that the letter did not specify when and how Poland would live up to the court's decisions.

The commission argues that while the chamber may not be accepting any new cases, it is still proceeding with ongoing cases, and has not stopped work.

Polish government spokesman Piotr Muller said the government would present its proposals for reform in the autumn, Reuters reported.

'Legal hybrid war'

Meanwhile on Tuesday, Poland's justice minister said the commission was entering a "legal hybrid war" with Poland.

"Today's decision […] is another manifestation of the commission's aggression towards Poland. It is an attempt to limit our sovereignty and an attack on the Polish legal order," Zbigniew Ziobro tweeted.

The commission has not asked for a specific amount for the fines - and officials did not want to speculate.

However, it could end up costing hundreds of thousands of euros for Poland on a daily basis, starting from the day the court ruled.

It is only the second time that the commission has asked for financial penalties regarding orders from the EU top court (and not final rulings). The first one was in 2017, against Poland, when it demanded €100,000 a day for logging in the Bialowieza forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Concerns over judicial independence are also holding up Poland's access to billions of euros in EU funds, under the bloc's Covid-19 recovery effort to help revive its economy after the pandemic.

Poland's prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said last week that nobody has the right to lecture his country on democracy and rule of law because Poland fought against communist totalitarianism.

Earlier this year, Morawiecki asked the country's top court to rule on whether the Polish constitution or EU law has ultimate primacy.

The Constitutional Court has delayed its ruling until 22 September. If it gives precedence to Polish law, the decision will undermine the EU's legal order.

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