Brussels calls for daily fines on Poland over threat to judicial independence

·2-min read
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit in Brussels in May. - EPA
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit in Brussels in May. - EPA

Brussels on Tuesday asked the European Court of Justice to impose daily fines on Poland over rules it says undermines the independence of Polish judges.

The EU’s top court ordered Poland's Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court to be dissolved after it was given new powers to sanction judges by the right-wing Law and Justice party, which has ignored the ruling.

There are allegations the chamber is being used to put pressure on judges and the increasingly eurosceptic government, which said Brussels was waging ‘hybrid war’ against it, has been accused of packing the judiciary with its supporters.

The European Commission said it wanted the EU’s top court to "impose financial penalties on Poland to ensure compliance" with the Luxembourg-based court’s order.

“Justice systems across the European Union must be independent and fair," commission president Ursula von der Leyen said."

EU judges will ultimately decide the size of any fine. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders told Polsat News broadcaster that Brussels wanted fines that were higher than the 100,000 euros a day demanded for logging in the Bialowieza forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

"This is a very uncommon step ... and it's not an easy step to take for the Commission," a senior official said.

It is the latest sign of escalating tensions between Warsaw and Brussels, which have long been at loggerheads over the rule of law, and after the Commission this week warned five Polish regional councils they risked losing EU cash after creating “LGBT-free zones”.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki's government said three weeks ago that the chamber would be dismantled as part of wider judiciary reforms but the Commission said it was taking action now.

Poland's Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said, “Under the pretext of law, we're dealing with aggression against Poland... a legal hybrid war."

The government has already accused the EU executive of "blackmail" over suggestions it could withhold coronavirus recovery funds unless Warsaw accepts the primacy of EU law.

Despite the long running battles with Brussels, surveys show that the vast majority of Polish people are in favour of EU membership.

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