EU: Expert discusses ‘long term challenge’ of rule of law
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At the beginning of October, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal ruled that some parts of EU treaties are incompatible with the Polish constitution, challenging European integration. The EU reacted by fining it one million euros for every day that the ruling was not overturned.
In December, it initiated legal action against the country.
The European Parliament has also commenced legal action against the EU Commission, in an attempt to see it implement harsher sanctions.
With those daily fines racking up, the EU’s justice commissioner has warned that it could now cover the fines by extracting them from payments to the country.
Didier Reynders told the Financial Times yesterday (Thursday) that the EU Commission would shortly be sending a letter to Warsaw demanding €69m (£57.7million) in accumulated fines.
If Poland does not comply with the request within 60 days, it would take the fines from disbursement with interest.
He told the paper: “We are busy with the five waves for Covid, and I don’t know how many waves on the rule of law in Poland.
“We continue to try to manage the waves one after the other.”
The EU’s relationship with Poland has become increasingly strained, as the eastern European nation’s ruling conservative party distancing itself from the EU on judicial matters.
The Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the Polish constitution had primacy over some parts of EU law and court rulings.
This allowed the country to continue to have a disciplinary process for judges. Critics say that the right-wing Government installed like-minded judges onto the Tribunal, so it could dismiss justices.
The decision in October by the Constitutional Tribunal was welcomed by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the largest party in Poland’s governing coalition.
He said that any different ruling would effectively mean that “Poland is not a sovereign state”, and insisted that the EU had no right to interfere in the country’s administration of justice.
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The European Commission said the ruling raised “serious concerns” and reaffirmed that “EU law has primacy over national law, including constitutional provisions”.
Poland was then ordered to pay a million euros (£846,000) for every day it fails to comply with the EU by maintaining its tribunal for hiring and firing judges.
Polish Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta said that the demand amounted to “usurpation and blackmail”.
The issue has also held up approval of EU coronavirus pandemic funding, of which it had planned to spend €36billion (£30.1billion) on the country.
Mr Reynders said: “The European Union is paying more to Poland than we are receiving. So, in the end, it’s a very strange game.”
In late October, the EU Parliament filed a lawsuit against the Commission over its “failure” to act adequately.
The lawsuit, which was submitted to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), is intended to force the European Commission to activate a mechanism, in force since the beginning of 2021, designed to withhold EU funds from member states.
The mechanism was established in response to concerns of democratic backsliding in Hungary and Poland.
However, it can only be activated if there is a clear risk of misuse of EU money due to such violations.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has previously indicated that she would be willing to activate the mechanism, but was awaiting an ECJ ruling on the legality of the tool.
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