Brussels – The European Commission asked the European Court of Justice on Tuesday to impose daily fines on Poland until it suspends measures Brussels sees as attacking judicial independence.
The dispute over Poland's attempt to impose a new disciplinary system on judges is just one of a series of bitter disputes between the EU and the right-wing government in Warsaw.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki's government has already accused the EU executive of "blackmail" over a suggestion the bloc could withhold pandemic recovery funds unless Warsaw accepts the primacy of EU law.
Now, the ongoing European court case over the judicial reforms could eventually lead to heavy fines after Warsaw ignored an interim order to suspend the disciplinary measures.
"Justice systems across the European Union must be independent and fair," EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement announcing the commission's decision to pursue enforcement action.
"The rights of EU citizens must be guaranteed in the same way, wherever they live in the European Union."
In a taste of the fury the measure is likely to trigger in Warsaw, Poland's deputy justice minister Sebastian Kaleta hit back on Twitter.
"The European Commission is unlawfully blocking funds for Poland and is applying for penalties. These are acts of aggression," he said, branding the move "an unlawful attack."
In July, the European Union's top court ordered Poland — as an interim measure — to suspend its new disciplinary procedures that include a tribunal to oversee the work of judges.
Poland's government said it would make various changes to the package in a letter to the commission on Aug. 20 but did not offer to halt the reform.
On Tuesday, top EU officials said the disciplinary procedures have continued to operate.
"Recent European Court of Justice rulings regarding the independence of Polish judges have not been fully implemented in Poland," EU vice president Vera Jourova said.
"For instance, the Disciplinary Chamber is continuing some of its activities against judges, even though all those activities were supposed to be fully suspended."
And justice commissioner Didier Reynders added: "It is essential that Poland fully complies with these rulings. That is why the commission, as guardian of the treaties, is taking action today."
An EU spokesman said the commission had not specified the level of the fines it was requesting, which would be for the court to decide.
Meanwhile, the overarching EU case against Poland's judicial reforms continues at the European court in Luxembourg.
A court source said it was likely to take six to 10 more months and that the question of financial penalties will form part of the final judgment.
Poland's increasingly eurosceptic government has been accused of trying to pack the judiciary with supporters of Morawiecki's Law and Justice Party (PiS).
Alongside the dispute over the judges, in July the European Commission launched a legal procedure against Warsaw for allowing local authorities to impose "LGBT ideology-free zones."
And at the core of the battle is the fate of Poland's share of the huge EU pandemic recovery fund, with MEPs pushing Brussels to block €23 billion (¥3 trillion) in grants and €34 billion in loans until Warsaw falls into line with EU law.
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