EU court fines Poland €1m a day over judiciary row

·2 min read
EU court fines Poland 1 million euros per day over judiciary row - EPA-EFE/Shutterstock /Shutterstock
EU court fines Poland 1 million euros per day over judiciary row - EPA-EFE/Shutterstock /Shutterstock

A European Court hit Poland with fines of €1 million (£845,000) a day on Wednesday for ignoring calls to back down in a dispute over the rule of law, in a surprise judgement that will inflame tensions between Warsaw and the bloc.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ), the EU’s top court, acted in defiance of Angela Merkel, the caretaker German chancellor, who called for the bloc to de-escalate a row that some have warned poses an existential threat to Brussels.

The EU has accused Poland of undermining democratic standards by attempting to take political control of the country's supreme court.

For its part, Poland this week warned that the EU risks sparking “world war three” in a related argument over the supremacy of European law.

The ECJ said the sanction 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”.

Warsaw immediately hit back against the ruling by European judges, saying it disregarded the Polish constitutional court’s desire to be independent from Brussels.

ECJ acting 'beyond its competence'

Reacting to the news, Piotr Mueller, the Polish government's spokesman, said: "The issue of regulating the organisation of the judiciary is an exclusive remit of member states.

“The Polish government has spoken publicly about the need to make changes in this area, but the use of fines and blackmail against our country is the wrong path to take. This is not how the EU should operate."

Sebastian Kaleta, a Polish deputy justice minister, said that "the ECJ totally ignores the Polish constitution and the Polish Constitutional Tribunal's rulings."

"It acts beyond its competence and abuses the institution of financial penalties and interim measures," he added, accusing the ECJ of trying to prevent Poland from shaping its own justice system, and calling the EU court's actions "usurpation and blackmail."

European judges had ruled that Poland’s “disciplinary chamber” breaches the bloc’s standards on judicial independence.

The chamber is able to dismiss judges and prosecutors, leading to accusations its powers are being abused for political ends.

The ruling is an escalation of the EU’s attack on Warsaw over the country’s judicial reforms, which has deeply divided the bloc’s leaders.

An EU source, with knowledge of the discussion, said the decision risks splitting the EU further.

“Given Merkel’s Chamberlain-esque push for further dialogue in opposition to 15 smaller member states this decision risks only meeting significant resistance from Berlin and Paris,” said the source.

The departing German chancellor had urged fellow EU leaders to slow down potential punishment against Warsaw in the hope of encouraging political dialogue to end the dispute over rule of law.

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