Member News

Vulcan Insight | ECJ fines Poland €1 million per day over judicial reforms

The long-running tension between the European Union and Poland over judicial reforms and the independence of the judiciary in the central European country took a fresh turn this week. As requested by the European Commission on 7 September, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) this week moved to take the unprecedented step and ordered Poland to pay €1million per day in fines until it responded and implemented the CJEU’s July ruling on the subject. The fine is the highest ever daily penalty imposed on a Member State by the CJEU.

On Wednesday, the CJEU ordered the payments due to Poland’s refusal to abide by the Court’s judgement on removing a disciplinary chamber for judges in the country. The Chamber is widely considered to undermine the independence of the Polish courts. Specifically, critics of the chamber from a broad range of political backgrounds, including MEPs, Ministers and Heads of State, have argued that it is a way to keep judicial rulings in line with Poland’s conservative government policy. In addition, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has not kept or delivered upon a promise to close down the chamber.

Already in October, the Polish Consitutional Court made a controversial ruling that aspects of EU law were not compatible with the Polish constitution, effectively called into question the EU’s legal order. That point was underlined by the CJEU’s judges comments that the fine was necessary 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.”

The ruling lead to a souring effect on the latest European Council Summt last week and a number of Heads of State or Government such as Belgium’s Prime Minister De Croo, or Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte publically speaking out on the matter.

Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheál Martin also weighed in on the matter last week, noting that Ireland had confronted Poland over the matter and outlined that: “I do believe Poland has gone too far…It’s not just a legal issue…it’s a political issue.” Furthermore, the Taoiseach pointedly noted that Poland was doubling down its challenge despite being one of the largest beneficiaries of the €750 billion COVID-19 recovery fund”.

Concern over the issue clearly feeds into anxiety among Member States about  democratic backsliding within the EU more widely, evidenced by the more cautious tone taken by countries such Luxembourg and Germany, who are eager not to throw fuel on the fire and inflame the Polish Prime Minister’s grassroots supporters.

Compliments of Vulcan Consulting – a member of the EACCNY.