Poland accuses EU of blackmail over €1m daily fine

European Court of Justice imposes penalty in escalating rift over Polish judicial reforms

Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the European Parliament last week that the disciplinary chamber of his country’s supreme court would be abolished, but he gave no precise timeframe. Photograph:  Ronald Wittek/AFP via Getty Images

Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the European Parliament last week that the disciplinary chamber of his country’s supreme court would be abolished, but he gave no precise timeframe. Photograph: Ronald Wittek/AFP via Getty Images

 

Poland has accused the EU’s highest court of blackmail for imposing a €1 million daily fine until Warsaw suspends a key pillar of its disputed judicial reforms.

Wednesday’s decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is the latest escalation in a stand-off between EU institutions and Poland’s national conservative government that has raised questions about the country’s future in the union.

The fine is linked to a new disciplinary chamber in the country’s supreme court, which critics see as a political instrument to intimidate judges.

Last year the European Commission filed a case with the Luxembourg-based ECJ, asking whether the chamber undermines the obligation of EU member states to operate a free and independent judiciary.

Pending a final ruling, the commission asked the Luxembourg court for an interim order to suspend the chamber’s operation. This was granted in July but ignored by Warsaw; last month, the commission asked the court to fine the Polish state until it complies. 

ECJ vice-president Lars Bay Larsen did so on Wednesday, pending a final ruling from the court on the disciplinary chamber.

Judge Bay Larsen said “compliance with the interim measures ordered on July 14th, 2021 is 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”.

Warsaw hit back at the fine saying it had already presented plans – not yet enacted – to abolish the disciplinary chamber.

“The path of punishments and blackmail towards our country is not the right way,” said Piotr Müller, a government spokesman, on Twitter. “This is not a model in which the European Union should function – a union of sovereign states.”

Deputy justice minister Sebastian Kaleta said on Twitter that the ECJ intervention “completely disregards and ignores the Polish constitution and the judgments of the constitutional tribunal”.

Since coming to office in 2015, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) has overhauled radically how the country’s judges are appointed, and by whom. PiS frames the reforms as an overdue overhaul of crony-ridden structures, over which the EU has no competence. But critics see a concerted effort to appoint judges that are allies of, or beholden to, the ruling party.

Poland’s constitutional court insisted earlier this month that EU law did not have primacy over Polish law – a direct challenge to the bloc’s legal order.