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The European Commission has asked the European Court of Justice to fine Poland for ignoring court rulings over the country’s controversial judicial reform, in a significant escalation of a stand-off between Brussels and Warsaw over the supremacy of EU law over national rules.
The long-running confrontation over moves by Poland’s conservative nationalist ruling party to gain powers over its judiciary, including a disciplinary chamber with the power to punish judges, has deeply soured relations between Brussels and the EU’s fifth-largest member state. It has also hardened Eurosceptic voices in Warsaw.
Tensions were inflamed further last week when the EU’s economy commissioner said that the disbursement of tens of billions of euros in pandemic recovery funds requested by the country would be affected by Warsaw’s response to the commission’s insistence on the primacy of EU law.
The commission’s request to the ECJ on Tuesday stems from the country’s failure to comply with so-called interim measures imposed in July by Europe’s highest court over Warsaw’s controversial judicial disciplinary regime.
“The commission is asking the court to impose a daily penalty payment on Poland for as long as the measures imposed by the court’s order are not fully implemented,” it said in a statement, which did not specify the amounts involved.
The commission added that it would set in motion a separate process for Warsaw’s failure to comply with a second ECJ ruling that declared that Poland’s disciplinary regime was incompatible with EU law. Poland’s new regime, the court said, provided insufficient guarantees of judicial impartiality and independence, and did not protect judges from the influence of Polish politicians.
Brussels’ potential fine and legal proceedings come despite a pledge in August by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the ruling Law and Justice party and Poland’s de facto leader, that the disciplinary system would be amended.
The commission is under increasing pressure from parliamentarians to make clear that the bloc will not tolerate a move by Poland to contest the primacy of EU law. Brussels officials view it as an existential threat to the very legal order that underpins the EU project.
That stance, however, has prompted scathing Polish criticism of the EU among some ruling party politicians. They equate it to financial blackmail, raising the question of whether the country would be better off without EU financing.
Poland in May requested €23.9bn in grants under the EU’s landmark recovery funds programme, along with €12.1bn in loans, but the package has yet to be approved. Paolo Gentiloni, the EU’s economy commissioner, said last week that the legal fight between Brussels and Warsaw had “possible consequences” for the Polish recovery and resilience plan.
Konrad Szymanski, Poland’s minister for EU affairs, suggested on Monday that the stand-off was harming the EU’s standing in Poland.
“In terms of the political costs of this — due to the disturbances that we are observing — their scale is unclear today, but there are some: there is certainly a political cost for the EU in Poland,” he told local television.
“Poland is owed money from the European Union budget and the Reconstruction Fund. Not because of this or that attitude of whichever political capitals or EU institutions. But as a result of international agreements, from the law,” he added.