Top EU court tells Poland to pay €1m a day for ignoring court order

Poland has been told by Europe’s top court to pay a fine of €1m a day for ignoring an order to suspend part of its contentious judicial reform.

The European Court of Justice has imposed the penalty until Warsaw suspends an element of a regime for disciplining judges. It is part of a far-reaching battle between Brussels and Warsaw over reforms to the country’s judicial system that the EU says threatens the rule of law and the independence of judges.

The stand-off has led to calls from other member states to cut tens of billions of euros in funding to the country, and even raised questions about Poland’s long-term future in the EU.

Poland insists its reforms are needed to overhaul an inefficient system, and that the EU has no right to intervene in what it regards as a domestic matter.

The ECJ ordered Poland in July to suspend several key aspects of its disciplinary regime — relating to the lifting of judges’ immunity from prosecution and their ability to examine the independence of other judges — “immediately”.

Warsaw did not do so, however, and in response the European Commission asked the ECJ in September to impose fines. Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the FT this week that Warsaw would dissolve the disciplinary regime by the end of the year.

The ECJ said in its order on Wednesday that Poland must pay €1m each day to the commission as a fine, and that suspending the contested provisions “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”.

Sebastian Kaleta, Poland’s deputy justice minister, said the ECJ ruling “completely disregards and ignores the Polish constitution and the rulings of the Polish constitutional tribunal”.

“It is acting beyond its competences, and abusing the institution of financial penalties and interim measures,” he wrote on Twitter. “This is the latest step of an operation aimed at detaching from Poland influence on the system of our state. It is usurpation and blackmail.”

The ruling comes days after EU leaders debated Poland’s rule of law crisis at a summit in Brussels. Some member states want the commission to continue withholding approval of the country’s €36bn Covid-19 recovery fund, and to deploy a new mechanism that could cut off tens of billions of annual EU funds to Poland.

Morawiecki told the FT in a recent interview that any move to reduce EU funds promised to Poland would “start world war three” and that his government would “defend our rights with any weapons which are at our disposal”.

Morawiecki also hit out at financial penalties such as that ordered by the ECJ on Wednesday, calling them “a gun to our head” that makes finding a compromise over the broader rule of law conflict more difficult.

Polish officials have said they plan further reforms of the judiciary, including changes to the supreme court.

The ECJ has also imposed daily fines of €500,000 on Poland in a separate case for refusing to suspend operations at its Turow mine in the south of the country, following a complaint by the Czech Republic about the environmental impact.

The fines are the largest the ECJ has ever imposed in the case of interim measures, which the court can order to prevent damage stemming from EU law infringement.

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