EU - Poland

Top Polish minister issues defiant riposte to EU chiefs over legal reforms

Poland's politicians, including prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, have repeatedly clashed with the European Union over reforms and policies.
Poland's politicians, including prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, have repeatedly clashed with the European Union over reforms and policies. AP - Olivier Hoslet

Poland's justice minister said his country should not pay fines imposed by the European Union's top court over a controversial reform of the law courts and Warsaw's failure to shut the Turow coal mine on the border with the Czech Republic.

Advertising

"Whether in the case of unlawful penalties concerning Turow or in the case of the penalty for changes in the judicial system, Poland cannot and should not pay a single zloty," said Zbigniew Ziobro.

The European Commission asked for the fine last month after Polish authorities failed to comply with a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling in July that demanded an immediate halt to the activities of the special chamber set up to discipline judges.

On Wednesday, the ECJ ordered Warsaw to pay one million euros a day for not closing down the panel.

Ziobro's defiant tone could come at a cost after EU bosses said up to 57 billion euros of coronavirus pandemic recovery grants would not be given to Poland unless it shut the chamber.

Process

“There is a longstanding country-specific recommendation for Poland: that is the independence of the judiciary,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“And I've always been very clear, we want to put into that recovery and resilience plan a clear commitment to dismantle the disciplinary chamber for judges, to end or reform the disciplinary regime, and to start a process to reinstall the judges forced into early retirement.”

Von der Leyen added: “This is a longstanding process. Therefore there is consistency in what we're asking for. I think it is doable, I hope that we will reach an agreement. But the reform part is an essential condition.”

Rows

Warsaw and Brussels have rowed for years over the judicial reforms pushed through bsince the Law and Justice (PiS) government came to power in 2015. Brussels believes the changes hamper democratic freedom. 

But leading politicians says they are needed to root out corruption among judges.

Already fraying nerves were further shredded in September when the ECJ ordered Poland to pay Brussels a daily fine of 500,000 euros for failing to close the Turow mine.

Tension and brinkmanship over the fines risk exacerbating rifts between Mateusz Morawiecki’s administration and the EU.

Poland's constitutional court earlier this month ruled that parts of EU law were incompatible with the Polish constitution in a decision denounced by Brussels.

The dispute soured a summit of EU leaders in Brussels last week at which Morawiecki said Poland was ready for dialogue but would not act under the pressure of blackmail.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Keep up to date with international news by downloading the RFI app