The European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Wednesday, Oct. 27, ordered Poland to pay a fine of $1.16 million (one million euros) per day until the country complies with a July ruling demanding it overturns a judicial reform that the European Commission considers inappropriate.

“In the ruling issued today, the Vice-President of the Tribunal obliged Poland to pay … a penalty payment of EUR 1 million per day, counting from the date on which this ruling was delivered to Poland,” says the Luxembourg-based ECJ’s ruling.

For the ECJ, the fine “is necessary in order to avoid serious and irreparable harm to the legal order of the European Union and consequently, to the right which individuals derive from EU laws and the values that the Union is founded.”

How the dispute began

In 2018 the Polish government formed by the Law and Justice Party (PiS), which has been in power since 2015, introduced a series of judicial reforms.

It created the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, whose role the Polish government says is to fight corruption in a judicial system that is not functioning properly.

But critics of the Polish government say the chamber was set up to throw out judges and prosecutors who oppose the executive. The European Commission sees the reform as eroding the country’s democratic system of checks and balances.

In July this year, the ECJ ruled that Poland had to undo the disciplinary chamber and imposed a fine of half a million euros at the time.

In its ruling, the ECJ said the European Union could force its members to ignore certain national laws or even the constitution itself when it conflicts with the bloc’s law.

However, unhappy with the decision, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki asked Poland’s Constitutional Court to decide whether European law was above Polish law when the two conflict.

The Polish Constitutional Court ruled that it was Polish law that had supremacy over European law.

The Polish court’s ruling sparked anger in the commission, and some members said that if Poland continued to “play with fire,” it could be left outside the Union.

Extortion

When the dispute began, the commission decided to withhold the more than $65 billion in pandemic relief funds earmarked for Poland, and Morawiecki accused the commission of “starving” and “punishing” Poland.

Tension continued to escalate through the week, and eventually, the Polish prime minister said he would eliminate the controversial disciplinary chamber. Still, he did not set a date and also did not introduce any bill to do so.

As a result, the ECJ imposed a fine of €1 million per day until Poland complies with its demands.

Polish Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta used his Twitter account to complain that the €1 million fine was a “usurpation and blackmail.” 

Even if the Polish government decides not to pay the fine, the EU can automatically deduct the value of the fine from the funds earmarked for Poland, which are estimated to be about $14 billion annually.

Poland, and Hungary, have had a hard time with the EU leadership not only over who has the final say on the sovereignty of each member—the reason that triggered Britain’s exit from the Union—but also because the right-wing nationalist governments of both countries have a more traditional family view which the bloc takes as anti LGBT.

As for Poland’s possible exit from the European Union, the Polish government has ruled out any intention of leaving the Union and has instead been determined that the bloc should admit a plurality of opinions and positions rather than forcing a common ideology on all its members.

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