Record fine for Poland: what impact will ECJ ruling have?

In the legal dispute between Poland and the EU, the European Court of Justice has imposed a record fine on Warsaw. Poland has been ordered to pay one million euros per day until the controversial disciplinary chamber - which according to the ECJ judges violates the separation of powers - is abolished. Commentators examine the background to this dispute over competences and believe the EU has the upper hand here.

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Népszava (HU) /

Don't give in to the nationalists

The EU should finally take a tough stance against Poland and Hungary, Népszava demands:

“European taxpayers are now fed up with the fact that the tax money they pay is being partly embezzled on the eastern periphery of the old continent and partly used to subsidise autocratic regimes. ... The EU executive should continue on the path it has chosen, it must show that it is determined to force the Polish and Hungarian nationalists to back down. The EU commissioners must not listen to Angela Merkel, who has learned nothing from the failure of her reconciliation policy and is still demanding a compromise.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

Stubbornness could be costly for Warsaw

How much longer can Poland continue to refuse to pay the fine, Lidové noviny wonders:

“The EU will not be deprived of the money. It will cut its subsidies to Poland from the budget. The sum in question is around 36 billion euros. The money for Warsaw has been put on hold until the doubts about the rule of law are cleared up. But even if the Commission were to release the funds, that would likely be blocked by the EU finance ministers. They do not give their formal approval unanimously, but by qualified majority. Governments from the Benelux countries and Scandinavia have already indicated that they would vote against this.”

Die Welt (DE) /

Proceedings on shaky ground

For Die Welt, the question is whether the ECJ has the right at all to force Warsaw to make changes to its judicial system:

“Its authority derives from Article 19 of the Lisbon Treaty. There it says: 'It shall ensure that the law is observed in the interpretation and application of the Treaties.' And that's it. What that actually entails remains unclear. ... This is about the rule of law in the European Union, and the Polish government is violating it. But the constitutional basis of the proceedings against Poland is also rather shaky. The governments have failed - perhaps deliberately - to clearly define the competencies of the ECJ and thus provoked the current constitutional crisis of the EU themselves.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Warsaw needs to quieten down

The chips are really down for Poland now, notes Deutschlandfunk:

“The Polish government can't just choose whether it pays or not here. If it refuses, these sums will be withheld from the payments to which Poland - as the largest net recipient - is entitled from the EU budget. ... But these millions in penalties are nothing compared to what the Polish government really needs to be worried about: 36 billion from the Covid recovery plan are hanging in the balance. So if the Polish government is not completely driven by a supposedly heroic desire for self-destruction it will quietly look for a way to climb down from the tree on to which it has publicly climbed with martial tones and verbal escalation.”

Kristeligt Dagblad (DK) /

Keep Poland in the heart of the EU

Kristeligt Dagblad warns that the EU needs to be extremely tactful in reprimanding Poland:

“It's important to keep a cool head so that the dispute over the rule of law in Poland doesn't develop into the biggest crisis in the EU since Brexit - or even into a Polexit. Unlike the British, the Poles are at the centre of Europe. Enlargement to the East was about finally uniting Europe. The European Union must stand by its fundamental democratic values, but it is also important to convince the Poles that we need them in the middle of Europe.”

Polityka (PL) /

Clarify competences without escalation

Polityka discusses the jurisdiction of European judges over the Polish judiciary:

“Looking at the treaties themselves, the European Union is not a federation like the US or Germany. Member states retain full independence in some areas such as foreign policy, but not in others, such as trade issues. There are still many grey areas here, which the ECJ among others has been trying to clarify for years through its interpretation of the treaties. ... In the EU there is a tension between national and European law. But Poland is on the wrong side of this dispute.”

Die Presse (AT) /

PiS playing an implausible role

First destroying the rule of law and then pushing for it is very inconsistent, Die Presse comments:

“What about the Poles' claim that they are only trying to protect the laws of all member states from being encroached on by the Eurocrats? This claim may earn Warsaw approving nods from the right-wing conservatives, but that doesn't change the fact that it is nonsense. ... As long as Brussels remained silent and the euros rolled eastwards, PiS didn't give a hoot about the proverbial question of where national law ends and European law begins. Now that the ECJ has condemned its judicial reform and penalties are due, the national populists are waving the very constitution they had trampled on before and casting themselves as misunderstood freedom fighters.”