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EU fines Poland €1 million per day over judicial reforms

October 27, 2021

The European Court of Justice has fined Poland €1 million per day for ignoring an EU ruling that called for the country's Supreme Court disciplinary chamber to be suspended.

EU and Polish flags tied in a knot
The top EU court had ruled in July the Polish Supreme Court's new disciplinary chamber did not guarantee impartialityImage: Patryk Ogorzalek/Agencja Gazeta/REUTERS

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ordered Poland to pay a fine of €1 million ($1.2 million) per day on Wednesday over its decision to ignore an EU ruling on Warsaw's judicial reforms.

The top EU court imposed the penalty as Poland has not suspended the disciplinary chamber of its Supreme Court, which critics say allows for the dismissal of judges on political grounds. 

The ECJ had ruled in July that the chamber does not guarantee judicial impartiality, and ordered that it be suspended. 

The ECJ said in a press release Wednesday that 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."

The European Commission had requested "financial penalties" be levied on September 9 after Poland failed to comply with the July ruling.

Is €1 million a day a fair penalty?

Other EU nations have insisted that Poland not be allowed to collect EU subsidies while disregarding the bloc's principles. 

"You cannot pocket all the money but refuse the values,'' Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Wednesday, adding Poland cannot treat the EU like "a cash machine.'' He also pointed out that Poland is a major recipient of EU funds.

On Twitter, Poland's Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta called the fine "usurpation and blackmail." 

Radoslaw Fogiel, a spokesperson for the right-wing ruling party, claimed that Poland contributes more to the bloc than it receives. However, EU figures show that Warsaw is a net recipient of €12 billion a year.

EU can cut funds if Warsaw refuses to pay

DW spoke with Polish MEP Radoslaw Sikorski about the ongoing dispute.

Sikorski, who opposes the current government's stance, said that Poland’s refusal to pay the fine would be a technicality. "Poland doesn't need to pay, the commission will simply deduct the money from funds that flow to Poland," he said.

He also rejected claims of blackmail made by Polish lawmakers, saying that "every international organization has some rules" that can incur punishments if broken.

As for how Poland will now proceed, Sikorski said: "I would expect Poland to fulfill the judgments of the European Court of Justice, there's no there's no way around it. We voluntarily signed up to the European legal system in our accession treaty."

The former Polish minister went on to say that while there is room to debate the relationship between EU and national courts, "the issue here is that the ruling party in Poland has packed the Constitutional Court and it's trying to pack ordinary courts."

Poland and its judiciary

The disciplinary chamber of Poland's Supreme Court was set up in 2018 by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) and is able to dismiss judges and prosecutors. 

Poland's Constitutional Court 'is a marionette court'

The ECJ fears this could be abused to inflict punitive sanctions on those who show independence in not bowing to political will.

Since then, the chamber is at the center of a row between the PiS and the EU. 

Earlier this month, Poland's constitutional court ruled Polish law supersedes EU law when there is a conflict between the two.

Last week, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the European Parliament the disciplinary chamber will be abolished, but he gave no timeline for when that would occur and no draft law has been introduced.

Poland has been accused of backsliding when it comes to the independence of the judiciary and press freedom by other EU member states.

The EU asserts Poland has politicized the judiciary with the placement of judges loyal to the ruling Law and Justice Party.

ab,ar/rt (AP, dpa, Reuters)