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EU sends formal request to Poland for payment of daily €1 million fine

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By Shona Murray
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Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU Summit at the European Council building in Brussels.
Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU Summit at the European Council building in Brussels.   -   Copyright  Kenzo Tribouillard, Pool Photo via AP

The European Commission has sent a formal request to Poland for payment of a daily €1 million fine imposed by the European Court of Justice, EU officials confirmed to Euronews.

The moves put further pressure on the Polish government to comply with two separate ECJ rulings that combined could cost Warsaw up to €45 million a month in lost EU funds.

The record-breaking €1 million penalty was imposed by the ECJ last October over Warsaw’s refusal to suspend the controversial disciplinary chamber of judges of its Supreme Court, which the ECJ had ordered it to immediately dismantle.

The court agreed with the Commission's initial complaints and ruled the reorganisation of the justice system could be “used in order to exert political control over judicial decisions or to exert pressure on judges with a view to influencing their decisions.”

Brussels believes the changes to the judicial system in Poland "strike at the very heart of the EU", and are designed to ensure politically motivated decisions are upheld, endangering the application of European law.

The official letter was sent on Thursday evening and covers the period from 3 November to 10 January. Warsaw still has time to reply to the Commission's payment request, which in practice would amount to €30 million a month.

However, an unrelated dispute over the Turow coal mine, located near the Czech border, is much more advanced and could soon hit Polish finances.

In the coming weeks, the Commission is expected to begin deducting a monthly fine of €15 million from Poland’s allocated EU funds as a result of Warsaw’s continued refusal to pay a €500,000 daily penalty for keeping open the Turow power plant.

The ECJ had previously ordered Poland to discontinue extraction activities in the mine in a lawsuit filed by the neighbouring Czech Republic. It has refused to do so, citing the needs of Polish energy security.

The money will be gradually deducted from Warsaw's EU funding out of a range of budgetary sources depending on what is due to be dispersed each month.

It is the first time in the bloc's history a member state will have money taken at source for failure to comply with ECJ rulings. Put together, the two fines could cost Warsaw a total of €45 million a month.

Poland is the largest beneficiary of the common budget, having received €18 billion in 2020.

Poland still be required to pay recipients of EU funding

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, from the ruling PiS, Law and Justice Party, indicated last August that his government was willing to dismantle the chamber of judges after it was deemed “incompatible” with EU law but he has failed to do so.

He subsequently accused the EU of “creeping expansion” over Polish affairs and later told the Financial Times in an interview that the EU is putting a “gun to our head”.

“It’s absolutely ludicrous but it seems that the government believes it’s not that much, but it is a lot of money and every single day its more, and it means that some schools, hospitals, (and) nursing homes will lose out on this money because the government won’t be able to invest in new projects without EU funding," Green Party MEP Daniel Freund told Euronews.

The Polish government will be forced to pay recipients of the EU funding themselves, according to the bloc's policy.

"The government is still fully obliged to hand over the cash, but it will be the Polish exchequer that it will come from," an EU source specified.

Freund says the Polish government is not being "truthful" with its citizens over the greater cost of its confrontation with the Commission.

“The Polish government tells its voters, we’re not paying the fine, we’re standing up for Poland when in reality they’re depriving their voters of cash," he said.

"They’re not explaining to them that the ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal over supremacy of EU law is something that will trickle down over time."

Moreover, he warns the longer the issue of Poland no longer respecting the primacy of the EU continues, aspects of Polish membership of the EU "cease to exist."

"If you don’t respect laws and you’re no longer getting EU money then some aspects of being an EU member cease to exist," Freund said.