You’re playing with fire EU row erupts over risk Poland defies ECJ €1 million-a-day fine

Poland could force EU exit through parliament warns ex-deputy PM

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Poland must pay the huge daily fine for maintaining a disciplinary chamber for judges, the European Union’s top court said on Wednesday, in the latest episode of a clash over the rule of law with implications for Warsaw’s future ties with the bloc. The long-running conflict over Poland’s judicial reforms – which the bloc says undermine the independence of the courts – deepened this year, raising questions over the future place of the EU’s largest eastern member in the union.

“In the ruling issued today, the Vice-President of the Tribunal obliged Poland to pay…a penalty payment of EUR 1 million per day, counting from the date on which this ruling was delivered to Poland,” the statement from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) read.

Poland has said it will abolish the chamber as part of broader reforms, but has not yet presented detailed plans.

Experts are now worried Warsaw might refuse to pay the fine, given the country’s Constitutional Tribunal ruling against the supremacy of EU laws.

Jakub Jaraczewski from the Democracy Reporting International NGO, told Politico: “Essentially, the CJEU has called the Polish bluff.

“Will Warsaw declare that, following its Constitutional Tribunal ruling dismissing EU law supremacy today’s decision has no effect in Poland? Or will it cave in, finding some awkward way to flout its own subservient constitutional court?”

The ECJ ruling also did not seem to appease all in the EU.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo is among those who are still calling on the EU Commission to impose tougher measures on Poland over their breaches of the rule of law.

“To those who give incendiary interviews and think it’s necessary to declare a new world … you are playing a dangerous game,” Mr De Croo said, referring to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, during an address at the College of Europe.

He added: “You are playing with fire when waging war with our European colleagues for internal political reasons.”

The Commission is waiting for the ECJ to rule on the legality of the bloc’s rule of law mechanism, in a case brought against the EU executive by Poland and Hungary.

But De Croo argued the EU top court should not be left alone to fight the two right-wing governments.

He said: “Make no mistake, the Council should not let the European Court fight this fight on its own.”

He added: “We should avoid past mistakes.

“We left it to the ECB to clean up the sovereign debt crisis on its own.

“This is a fundamental political problem that needs to be solved politically, by the Council and by the European Parliament.”

The ECJ had already fined Poland 500,000 euros a day for defying a court ruling to halt operations at the Turow coal mine on the Czech border.

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Poland has vowed to continue operations and has said it will not pay the penalties related to the mine.

A government spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Poland would pay the latest fine.

However, spokesman Piotr Muller wrote on Twitter: “The path of punishments and blackmail towards our country is not the right one.”

Wednesday’s decision drew a furious response from Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta.

“The ECJ completely disregards and ignores the Polish constitution and the judgments of the Constitutional Tribunal,” he wrote on Twitter.

Ruling nationalists Law and Justice (PiS) say the European Union executive, the European Commission, is overstepping its mandate by trying to stop its judicial reforms.

At the request of Prime Minister Morawiecki, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal examined whether certain elements of the EU treaties were compatible with the Polish constitution.

Earlier this month, the Tribunal said they were not, in a ruling critics said created an existential problem for the bloc by questioning the primacy of EU law, a tenet of European integration.

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