Minister: Poland should not pay any of its EU court fines

October 28, 2021 GMT

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s justice minister said Thursday the European Union member should not pay any of the total $1.8 million daily fines the EU’s top court imposed for Warsaw’s ignoring its injunctions on changes to the judiciary and operation of a lignite mine.

Zbigniew Ziobro called the European Court of Justice injunctions lawless. Poland insists the court has no authority over its justice system and has been ignoring its rulings.

On Wednesday, the court fined Poland $1.2 million a day to prevent what it called “serious and irreparable harm” to the EU’s legal order, chiefly by having a politically-influenced Supreme Court body for disciplining judges and by undermining judicial independence.

In July, the EU court instructed Poland to close the Disciplinary Chamber. Poland has consented but has not done that yet.

Last month, the EU court fined Poland $600,000 per day for failing to heed an injunction to close the Turow lignite mine, in a drawn-out dispute with neighboring Czech Republic. Poland is not paying that fine. Warsaw argues it cannot close the mine, because it fuels the Turow power plant that generates some 7% of the nation’s energy.

“The Polish state cannot bow to lawlessness,” Ziobro told a news conference.

“Whether the illegal penalties regarding Turow ... or the penalty for changes to the judiciary, Poland cannot and should not pay a single zloty, (local currency),” said Ziobro who is the author of the changes to Poland’s justice system.

On Thursday, the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary expelled Poland’s council over serious concerns as to its independence. Some members of Poland’s council were appointed with political recommendation. The expelling vote took place at the European body’s General Assembly in Vilnius, Lithuania. The councils recommend judicial appointments and help regulate work of the judiciary.

The EU is warning it can suspend payment of pandemic recovery funds to Poland unless the disciplinary body is abolished, but Commission head Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday expressed hope for a compromise.

She said strict conditions for payment of the funds to Poland will include closing of the Disciplinary Chamber and changes to the way the judges are disciplined, as well as reinstalling some of the suspended judges.

“I think it is doable, I hope that we will reach an agreement, “ von der Leyen said. ”But the reform part is conditio sine qua non.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Thursday the government will work out a compromise, but said it will take months. He told the European Parliament last week the Disciplinary Chamber will be abolished, but gave no timeframe, and also indicated some other body will take its place. It was not clear whether the replacement would be more in line with the EU’s values.