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Poland hit with record €1M daily fine in EU rule-of-law dispute

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Poland was hit with a record-high daily fine of €1 million for not complying with an EU court order to suspend the country’s controversial disciplinary mechanism for judges, the bloc’s highest court announced on Wednesday.

The decision comes at a decisive moment in the years-long conflict between Brussels and Warsaw over the rule of law, as the European Commission is looking into how to use different forms of financial pressure to make the Polish government reverse some of its contested judiciary reforms.

The fine is the highest daily penalty the Court of Justice of the European Union has put on an EU member state in its history.

The court said Poland had failed to comply with its order, which required Warsaw, among other things, to suspend a judicial disciplinary forum — formally dubbed the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court — until the judges give the final verdict in the case checking its legality. The court said the move “is necessary in order 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 Polish government swiftly pushed back on the ruling after it was announced. Piotr Müller, the government spokesperson, argued that the power to regulate the judiciary lies with EU countries, not the EU itself. “The punishment and blackmail towards our country is not the right way,” he tweeted. “This is not the model in which the European Union should function.”

Wednesday’s ruling stems from a dispute going back several months. In April, the European Commission started a legal case against Poland over a new law for disciplining judges, dubbed the “muzzle law.” In July, the EU court ordered the immediate suspension of the Disciplinary Chamber until it rules in the case. More recently, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said he will dismantle the chamber later this year, without offering specifics.

Since the disciplinary chamber has continued to function, the European Commission requested that Poland pay a daily penalty that would get Poland to comply with the order “as soon as possible.”

Poland will have to pay the sum from the time it receives Wednesday’s decision until it fully complies with the obligation — or if it fails to comply, until the final judgment in this case.

The disagreement is part of a broader spat between Warsaw and Brussels over the rule of law.

Last month, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal — which critics say is controlled by the government — ruled that some of the decisions of the EU high court, including those relating to the country’s judiciary, aren’t in line with the Polish constitution. Many in Brussels saw the ruling as challenging the basic tenants of the EU’s legal foundation. Yet Morawiecki has defended the ruling, forcefully batting away critics during a recent speech before the European Parliament.

This is a second financial blow for Warsaw from the Luxembourg judges in recent months. Poland was earlier fined for not complying with an order from the high court to stop the operations of the Turów coal mine. Poland refused to comply with the order and was given a €500,000 daily fine — which it has refused to pay.
 
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