Poland to Face EU Fines as Bloc Steps Up Rule-of-Law Fight
(Bloomberg) -- Poland faces European Union fines for failing to meet an EU ultimatum to halt a controversial regime to discipline judges, further escalating a clash over the rule of law in the bloc’s biggest eastern member.
The European Commission will ask the EU Court of Justice for financial penalties against Poland for ignoring a binding court order in July to “immediately suspend” its judicial discipline system, seen by critics as a way to silence judges who don’t support nation’s ruling Law and Justice party.
The commission on Tuesday also decided to send a letter of formal notice to Poland for failing to comply with a separate EU court ruling that the nation’s controversial disciplinary regime for judges violated the bloc’s rules.
The move toward fines is part of a series of rapidly escalating legal disputes that have rekindled a debate about Poland’s long-term political trajectory, delaying 23.9 billion euros ($28.4 billion) in grants the country is set to receive from the EU’s pandemic recovery package.
The EU fines could begin as a lump sum penalty, followed by daily payments until the law is adjusted, but the commission said the court would set the amount of the fine.
Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro on Tuesday described the decision as an act of “aggression.” The conflict over the justice-system revamp that’s been going on for more than five years is a “legal hybrid war” waged against Poland, he said.
The government plans to present changes to the judiciary, including a new disciplinary regime for judges, this fall, government spokesman Piotr Muller told reporters.
The Luxembourg-based EU court’s July 14 order for Poland to halt the disciplinary regime was followed a day later by a binding ruling from the same tribunal telling the nation that the mechanism “could be used in order to exert political control over judicial decisions or to exert pressure on judges with a view to influencing their decisions.”
“The rulings of the European Court of Justice must be respected across the EU,” Vera Jourova, the EU’s vice president in charge of values, said in a statement. “This is a must to build and nurture the necessary mutual trust between member states and citizens alike.”
EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said it was always clear the “commission will not hesitate to take all necessary measures to ensure the full application of EU law,” adding that “it’s essential that Poland fully complies” with the court rulings.
Poland has faced similar proceedings before.
In a 2017 dispute with the European Commission, the EU’s top court gave Poland two weeks to stop increased logging in the Bialowieza forest or face fines of at least 100,000 euros a day.
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