EU to demand Poland pay fines of €70 million for disciplining judges

Warsaw already refused to dismantle disciplinary chamber of country’s Supreme Court

The European Union executive is set to demand that Poland pay around €70 million of fines in the coming weeks for failing to scrap a contentious system for disciplining judges, sources have told Reuters.

A spokesman for the European Commission separately told journalists on Tuesday that the Brussels-based executive had received Poland’s latest explanation on the dispute, one of many battles over democratic backsliding pitting Warsaw against the 27-nation bloc.

“EU has ways to ensure payment of due fines from Poland,” the spokesman said.

January 11th was the deadline for the nationalist government in Poland to tell the Commission when and how it planned to dismantle the disciplinary chamber of poland’s supreme court, which the top EU court had ordered to be suspended.


Warsaw has already refused to heed the decision of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, which then approved a fine of €1 million a day.

Should Warsaw’s response fail to satisfy the Commission – the enforcer of joint EU laws, including on protecting the judiciary from political meddling – a European Commission source said it would send an invoice to Warsaw, with a 45-day deadline to pay.

By then, the fine would amount to some €70 million, said a second Commission source, adding that the so-called “call for payment” would be sent to Warsaw “very soon”.

A Polish government spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.


Asked about the case, a deputy Polish justice minister last week accused the EU of making “illegal demands” and said Warsaw would not give in to “blackmail”.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party introduced the new policing system for judges in 2017, part of a sweeping overhaul of the judiciary widely denounced as undermining the independence of courts and judges, a central principle of modern liberal democracies, and of Polish and EU laws alike.

The Polish judges’ association Iustitia, which accuses PiS of degrading the courts, said the disciplinary chamber had suspended six judges so far for challenging the government’s policies, and that two more were awaiting a decision.

Of the six, two have been suspended for more than two years, their cases reassigned to other judges or started from scratch, including one for the murder of a child, Iustitia said.

In another example of how deep the revamp has been, Iustitia has said more than 1,000 judges had been nominated since PiS changed Polish laws to allow judges appointed by government officials – rather than other judges – to staff judicial panels.

Should Warsaw continue refusing to pay for failing to obey the order of the ECJ – the decisions of which are binding for all member states – the Commission would eventually deduct the total due from EU handouts otherwise envisaged for Warsaw.

The timing, however, is unclear as all other EU countries have so far either implemented measures prescribed by the ECJ or paid promptly on their own for failing to do so.

Lack of precedent or clear EU rules invites procedural delays and political haggling over the matter, which has already cost Poland its reputation as the posterchild of democratic transition from the communism imposed on it after the second World War. – Reuters