EU Hits Poland With Record Daily Fine in Rule-of-Law Feud
(Bloomberg) -- The European Union’s top court slapped Poland with a record daily fine of 1 million euros ($1.2 million) in a fast-escalating feud over the rule of law that prompted accusations of “blackmail” from Warsaw.
The EU Court of Justice decision on Wednesday amplifies the financial squeeze on Poland, which also faces a 500,000 euro per day bill for ignoring an order to close a coal mine near the Czech border. Separately, the EU is delaying the approval of 36 billion euros of pandemic aid due to concerns over democratic backsliding.
The court’s move comes in response to Poland’s failure to dismantle a controversial regime for disciplining judges, seen by critics as a way to oust those who don’t back the populist Law & Justice party. The order sent the zloty to an almost three-week low against the euro and led to angry condemnation from the government.
“Punishment and blackmail toward our country is not the right way,” government spokesman Piotr Muller said 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 the court was ignoring Polish laws and abusing its right to order financial penalties. Law & Justice spokesman Jaroslaw Fogiel called on Poles to show “more sovereignty” and “national pride” at a tough moment when the EU is placing unlawful demands on the government.
Beyond the combative comments, however, the government is concerned if voters will accept fines that, over the course of a year, would total more than half a billion euros. Opinion polls show more than 80% of Poles want to remain in the EU, in part because the country is the biggest net recipient of the bloc’s funds.
“It is now for Poland to follow up on the Court’s order,” commission spokesman Christian Wigand said in a statement.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told Poland in a speech in Bruges on Wednesday that it was “playing a dangerous game -- you are playing with fire” by failing to respect the legal foundations of the 27-country bloc.
“This is about the overwhelming majority of member states – from the Baltics to Portugal – who agree our Union is a union of values, not a cash machine,” he said. “You can’t pocket all the money but refuse the values.”
The Luxembourg-based EU court has said Poland’s disciplinary 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.”
Compliance with the court’s July order “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,” the court said in a statement.
Poland’s government has said it planned to overhaul the disciplinary system but hasn’t presented any legislation. The move toward fines are part of a series of escalating legal disputes that have rekindled a debate about Poland’s long-term political trajectory and even a potential exit from the bloc, which the government has called “fake news.”
Poland toughened its stance in the rule-of-law standoff this month when its Constitutional Tribunal -- ruling on a case filed by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki -- judged that Polish law can override some EU regulations, including verdicts by the bloc’s top court regarding the country’s judicial system changes.
The fines come as Poland and Hungary pursue EU court challenges against a so-called conditionality mechanism established in January that allows the EU to withhold budget distributions to member states and which the two nations argue was adopted in violation of the bloc’s treaties.
Poland has also failed to pay the daily fine in the Czech dispute over the Turow mine, leading the commission to say the EU would otherwise cover sums owed -- including interest -- by offsetting it against future payments from the bloc’s budget.
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