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Exclusive-Poland asks EU to hold off fines for disciplining judges – letter

© Reuters. People carry flags, as they take part in a rally in support of Poland’s membership in the European Union after the country’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled on the primacy of the constitution over EU law, undermining a key tenet of European integration, in

By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Poland asked the European Union’s executive to hold off fines for undermining judicial independence, saying it is working to dismantle its contentious disciplinary chamber for judges, according to a Jan.10 letter seen by Reuters.

Warsaw currently owes 70 million euros for failing to halt immediately the work of the chamber pending a final verdict by the top EU court on the scheme, widely criticised for allowing the government to sideline judges questioning its policies.

The letter is the latest development in the case, one of many battles between the nationalist, eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party ruling in Poland and the EU over undercutting democratic checks and balances.

Poland’s EU Ambassador, Andrzej Sados, said in the letter that the head of the Supreme Court had already decided to stop handing some cases to the Disciplinary Chamber, and that the government was “currently consulting draft laws aimed at continuing reforms of the judiciary.”

“Under those circumstances, I ask that the Commission holds off on sending calls for payment until the planned reforms are carried out,” he wrote.

The Brussels-based executive has said it would start sending invoices to Warsaw very soon and had ways to secure the fines owed, including by deducting them from development handouts earmarked for Poland should PiS refuse to pay.

PiS introduced the Disciplinary Chamber in 2017 as part of sweeping changes to the judiciary that have pushed out many judges – including prominent government critics – and promoted new ones, including giving top judicial roles to party allies.

The letter did not detail how or when Warsaw would revoke the chamber, which has the power to reassign or suspend judges.

The fundamental disputes with the EU over democratic standards under the increasingly autocratic PiS have cost Poland its reputation as the poster child of post-communist transition and access to billions of euros in EU pandemic recovery funds.

At stake are more EU development funds, a key motor of Poland’s economic growth since it joined the bloc in 2004.

There has never been another EU country that failed to either act on orders of the bloc’s top court or pay penalties for failing to do so, according to Commission officials.

Poland has two such cases now as it has also been refusing to amend its ways or pay fines ordered by the court in a row with neighbour Czech Republic over the Turow coal mine.

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