The European Commission has asked Europe's highest court to impose daily fines on Poland, as the confrontation between Brussels and Warsaw over the country’s alleged undermining of the rule of law intensifies.
The request relates to an ongoing dispute between Poland and the EU over a mechanism set up by the Polish government to discipline judges.
The EU has argued that the right-wing Law and Justice Party is undermining the independence of the judiciary with a series of far-reaching reforms, including the creation of a disciplinary chamber in the Polish supreme court.
It believes the disciplinary chamber undermines the protection of judges from political interference.
The Commission has asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to impose fines because the Polish government has allegedly refused to comply with a number of recent ECJ decisions.
On 14 July, the ECJ issued an interim order, pending further legal proceedings, relating to the disciplinary chamber and other controversial legal reforms.
On 15 July, the Luxembourg court ruled that Poland’s disciplinary regime for judges was not compatible with EU law.
The Commission is today asking the ECJ to impose fines on Poland because it argues that Poland has not complied with either the 14 July interim ruling, or the 15 July judgement.
The Commission has also escalated legal action through what is called a letter of formal notice because it believes that Poland has not responded to the 15 July judgement.
In particular, the Commission says the disciplinary chamber continues to function and that the Polish authorities are continuing to discipline local court judges.
On 14 July, the ECJ asked Poland to suspend the provisions allowing the disciplinary chamber to decide on removing the immunity against prosecution enjoyed by judges, as well as on rules governing the employment, social security and retirement of supreme court judges.
The ECJ also asked Poland to suspend the effects of decisions already taken by the disciplinary chamber on judicial immunity.
The interim order also required Poland to permit Polish judges to directly apply EU rules which protect judicial independence.
While the Polish government has said it will dismantle the disciplinary court, Commission officials say Warsaw has given no indication as to how or when this will happen.
The Commission is asking the ECJ to impose daily fines until the court’s orders are complied with by the Polish authorities.
The size of the financial penalties has not been set out by the Commission. Officials say that will be decided by the ECJ.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: "Justice systems across the European Union must be independent and fair. The rights of EU citizens must be guaranteed in the same way, wherever they live in the European Union."
The Polish government has criticised recent EU admonishments and officially questioned the primacy of EU law in certain areas.
The confrontation with Brussels has also spilled over into the Covid-19 recovery fund, with the Commission holding up payment of €24 billion to Poland over rule of law tensions.
Polish Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta said the European Commission was acting unlawfully by blocking funds seeking penalties against it.
"These are acts of aggression. After the approval of the EU budget, the EU bodies have launched an unlawful attack," he said on Twitter.
Additional reporting - Reuters