EC urges Poland to pay fines over judicial regime

The European Commission (EC) has sent a formal demand to the Polish government for it to pay fines for failing to dismantle a judicial disciplinary chamber, a commission spokesperson has said.

On October 27 last year, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) imposed a EUR 1 million daily fine on Poland until it complies with a July 14 ruling by the same court demanding the immediate suspension of the chamber, which disciplines judges.

The court has argued the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, introduced as part of the government’s overhaul of the Polish judicial system, lacks sufficient independence from the government.

On January 11, the EC confirmed it had received a reply from Poland to a letter it had sent on December 22 about plans to dismantle the chamber.

On Thursday, a European Commission spokesperson, Christian Wigand, told a press conference in Brussels that having analysed Poland's response, the European Commission had come to the conclusion that it had not provided evidence the country was implementing the July decision of the top EU court.

According to the EC, the measures taken by the Polish government are insufficient.

Therefore, Wigand said, the first call for payment had been sent to Warsaw on Wednesday for the fines for the period from November 3, 2021, to January 10, 2022.

The Commission gave Warsaw 45 days to pay the fines, which, according to Reuters, amount to around EUR 70 million.

In October 2019, the European Commission decided to take Poland to the CJEU over the chamber. The EC argued that the Disciplinary Chamber under the Polish Supreme Court, set up in 2017, violated judicial independence in that it could have a "chilling effect" on judges, and thus ran against EU law.

The Luxembourg-based Court said the new disciplinary chamber "does not provide all the guarantees of impartiality and independence," and that, especially, it is not protected against direct or indirect influence by the legislative and executive powers.

The institution of the Disciplinary Chamber was part of a broader overhaul of the Polish judicial system, large parts of which have been contested by the EU on the grounds that they made courts vulnerable to political pressure.