EU warns Poland it could face fines if it does not comply with court ruling
European Commission vice-president Vera Jourova has issued a warning to Poland. Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images
The European Commission has warned it may seek to impose fines on Poland if the EU member state refuses to comply with a ruling by the European Court of Justice regarding judicial independence, in an escalating row over the rule of law.
It came as the EU executive unveiled a report assessing the justice systems, anti-corruption safeguards and media freedoms in 27 member states.
The report criticised insufficient corruption controls and the “obstruction and intimidation” of journalists in Hungary, as well as a “deterioration” of media freedom in Slovenia, and raised serious concerns about the institutions for preventing corruption and about reform that “undermines the independence of judges” in Poland.
European justice commissioner Didier Reynders told reporters he had written to the Polish government requesting information on how they would comply with the decisions by the European Court of Justice.
The European Court of Justice ruled last week that judicial reforms by the Polish government were not compatible with EU law, while Poland’s own constitutional court ruled that the country did not have to obey such rulings.
European Commission vice-president for values and transparency Vera Jourova said that unless Poland gave details on how it would comply with the EU court’s ruling by August 16th, the commission would ask the court “to impose a penalty payment on Poland”. The commission was also prepared to take fresh infringement proceedings against Poland as well, she said.
“Also in this case, we will ask for financial sanctions if Poland does not remedy the situation [by confirming compliance with the ruling] by the 16th of August,” Ms Jourova said. “EU has primacy over national law . . . The rights of EU citizens and businesses must be protected in the same way across all member states. There can be no compromise on this.”
As well as identifying areas of concern, the commission’s rule of law report praised reform efforts in countries including Malta, Slovakia, and Romania. In its report on the Republic, it noted a low number of judges per head of population, and that anti-corruption efforts were hampered by “limited resources and institutional fragmentation”.
“Challenges remain as regards enforcement, in particular on asset disclosure, lobbying and revolving doors,” it found in relation to the State. Reforms of defamation law “foreseen for adoption in the coming months, are expected to have a positive impact on the operation of journalists” in Ireland, it added.
There is increasing pressure on the commission to step up action on rule of law from EU member states concerned about a slide towards authoritarianism in parts of central and eastern Europe, and the potential misuse of billions of euro in forthcoming Covid-19 stimulus funds.
A new tool is set to link the receipt of EU money with requirements to observe the rule of law, and the European Commission has yet to sign off on applications from Poland and Hungary for funds under the €750 billion Next Generation EU recovery package.
In their national spending plans Poland has requested almost €24 billion in recovery grants, while Hungary has bid for more than €7 billion in stimulus money. The commission remains in negotiations with the two member states over their requests, and concerns over protections against corruption are said to be holding up the approval of Hungary’s plan.