European Court of Justice orders Poland to pay €1m per day over judicial independence dispute
The top European Union court has ordered Poland to pay €1 million per day over the nationalist government’s ongoing legal dispute with Brussels.
The European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) ruling came after the European Commission asked for “financial penalties” to ensure Poland’s compliance with a July ruling.
The ruling marks a significant ratcheting up in tensions between Warsaw and Brussels and runs contrary to recent words of caution from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The ECJ said the 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”.
Should Poland refuse to pay the fines, they will accumulate. The ECJ can increase the financial penalties.
The commission, which oversees compliance with EU law, asked the Luxembourg court to enforce a daily penalty on Poland until it acts to improve the functioning of its supreme court and suspends recent laws seen as undermining judicial independence.
At the centre of the dispute is the court’s disciplinary chamber which now has the power to discipline judges.
The ECJ said Poland ignored a court order from two years ago to dismantle the so-called disciplinary chamber, which the Luxembourg court called “neither an independent nor an impartial tribunal”.
The disciplinary chamber was set up in 2018 with the power to dismiss judges and prosecutors. Its establishment led to claims from Brussels that the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has filled it with loyalists to punish members of the judiciary who do not follow the government line.
Poland’s deputy justice minister Sebastian Kaleta said the ECJ was “acting beyond its competences” and its ruling amounted to “usurpation and blackmail”.
He said the ruling “completely disregards and ignores the Polish constitution and the rulings of the Polish constitutional tribunal”.
PiS Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has warned that any cuts to EU funding and the recent decision by Warsaw’s constitutional court that ECJ rulings in some areas are not binding would “start world war three”.
In a separate ECJ decision in September, Poland was fined €500,000 for each day it continues to extract lignite – the dirtiest form of brown coal – at its Turów mine, amid a legal challenge over the mine’s pollution of groundwater across the Czech border.
A large section of Polish society sides with the EU in the dispute. Picture credit: YouTube