EU and Polish flags. Picture: REUTERS/INTS KALNINS
EU and Polish flags. Picture: REUTERS/INTS KALNINS

Poland faces EU fines for failing to meet an EU ultimatum to halt a controversial regime to discipline judges, further escalating a clash over the rule of law in the bloc’s biggest eastern member.  

The European Commission will ask the EU Court of Justice for financial penalties against Poland for ignoring a binding court order in July to “immediately suspend” its judicial discipline system, seen by critics as a way to silence judges who do not support the country’s ruling Law and Justice party. 

The commission on Tuesday also decided to send a letter of formal notice to Poland for failing to comply with a separate EU court ruling that the nation’s controversial disciplinary regime for judges violated the bloc’s rules.

The move towards fines is part of a series of rapidly escalating legal disputes that have rekindled a debate about Poland’s long-term political trajectory, delaying €23.9bn in grants the country is set to receive from the EU’s pandemic recovery package.

The EU fines could begin as a lump sum penalty, followed by daily payments until the law is adjusted, but the commission said the court would set the amount of the fine. 

Poland’s deputy justice minister, Sebastian Kaleta, called the decision an “act of aggression” in a tweet on Tuesday.

The Luxembourg-based EU court’s July 14 order for Poland to halt its regime was followed a day later by a binding ruling from the same tribunal telling the government that its disciplinary regime “could be used in order to exert political control over judicial decisions or to exert pressure on judges with a view to influencing their decisions”.

“The rulings of the European Court of Justice must be respected across the EU,” Vera Jourova, the EU’s vice-president in charge of values, said in a statement. “This is a must to build and nurture the necessary mutual trust between member states and citizens alike.”

EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders said it was always clear the “commission will not hesitate to take all the necessary measures to ensure the full application of EU law”, adding that “it is essential that Poland fully complies” with the court rulings.

Poland appeared to back down after de facto leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said in August the government will in September propose changes to revamp the disciplinary regime to make it more effective. So far no details have been published and the functioning of the system was only partially suspended.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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