EU fines Poland €1m a day in row over judicial independence



The European Union has upped the stakes in its standoff with Poland over judicial independence and the primacy of EU over national law.

he bloc’s top court yesterday fined the recalcitrant member nation €1m a day to prevent what it called “serious and irreparable harm” to the EU’s legal order and values.

The European Court of Justice imposed the penalty after a week-long war of words in which Poland told the EU to stay out of its judicial affairs.

Other EU member states insisted Warsaw could not continue to hog subsidies while disregarding the bloc’s democratic and rule-of-law principles.

“You cannot pocket all the money but refuse the values,” Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo said, warning Poland not to treat the EU like “a cash machine”.  

The Court of Justice decided to syphon off some of those subsidy funds, saying the daily fine was “necessary in order to avoid serious and irreparable harm to the legal order of the European Union and to the values on which that Union is founded, in particular that of the rule of law”.

The EU’s executive commission had requested the penalty until the Polish government acts to improve the functioning of the Polish Supreme Court and suspends new laws deemed to undermine judicial independence.

The point of contention is the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, a body the ruling party empowered to discipline judges.

Many Polish judges view the chamber as a tool to pressure judges to rule in favour of the governing authorities.

In July, the European Court of Justice ordered the suspension of the disciplinary chamber, but it is still operating.

Polish premier Mateusz Morawiecki told the European Parliament last week that the chamber will be abolished, but he gave no precise timeframe.

Mr De Croo yesterday targeted Mr Morawiecki, who has accused the EU of threatening “World War III” for insisting Poland should respect the independence of the judiciary and the primacy of EU law.

The Belgian prime minister said his Polish counterpart was “playing with fire when waging war with your European colleagues for internal political reasons”.

The comments follow years of disputes over changes Poland’s government has made to the country’s courts.

The EU believes the changes erode democratic checks and balances, and the European Commission is holding up €36bn earmarked for Poland for a pandemic recovery plan.

Yesterday’s decision also comes on the heels of an EU summit, at which Polish arguments that fundamental judicial changes the country made would not undermine the EU failed to convince key bloc leaders.

Poland’s nationalist ruling party, Law and Justice, has been in conflict with Brussels since winning power in 2015 over a number of matters, including migration and LGBT rights.

The longest-running dispute, however, has centred on the Polish government’s attempts to take political control of the judiciary.

The matter came to a head earlier this month when Poland’s constitutional court ruled some key parts of EU law are not compatible with the nation’s constitution.



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