(Bloomberg) -- Poland lost the final round of its costly legal battle at the European Union’s top court over a controversial regime to discipline national judges who failed to toe the populist government’s line.
The EU’s Court of Justice ruled on Monday that Poland’s reforms violated EU law. The defeat follows a simmering dispute with the EU’s executive arm over the rule of law in Poland that sparked record daily EU fines of €1 million ($1.1 million).
EU nations must “ensure that, in the light of the value of the rule of law, any regression of their laws on the organization of justice is prevented,” the court said.
The law handed “monopolistic control” to a single body in Poland’s supreme court and threatened to weaken people’s fundamental right to justice when combined with “prohibitions and disciplinary infringements,” it said.
Read More: Hundreds of Thousands March for Polish Opposition Ahead of Vote
The dispute has forced the populist government to backtrack on some of its reforms — seen by critics as a way to oust those who don’t back the populist Law & Justice party.
Lars Bay Larsen, the EU top court’s vice president, recently cut the daily penalties in half, in recognition of changes made by Poland since the dispute erupted. But he stopped short of toppling the punishment completely, saying the government hadn’t yet fully complied with all requests.
Poland has so far failed to pay a cent of its bill, which currently stands at €556.5 million. That’s led the European Commission to withhold €360 million from EU funds earmarked for the nation, for the period between November 2021 to October 2022.
The daily fines will stop accruing following the pronouncement of the EU court’s ruling. “However, this does not affect Poland’s obligation to make the daily penalty payments due in respect of the past,” the court said Monday.
Polish Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta criticized the ruling, saying on Twitter that the EU’s top court doesn’t have the authority to assess the organization of the judiciary of a member state.
EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said in a separate statement that the commission had “made its point on the law clearly and firmly: it undermines the independence of Polish judges” and that “after today’s decision, the law on the judiciary will need to be adapted accordingly.”
While Poland may disagree with the commission, it can’t ignore the court’s binding ruling, Reynders said, recalling that the EU Court of Justice “has the final say” on how EU law is applied and urging Poland “to comply fully.”
The government’s u-turn earlier this year — passing legislation to reverse some of the contested changes in the judiciary — gave rise to hopes that the bitter rule of law feud could be wrapped up.
Such hopes could now be thwarted after Poland passed a new law last month that allows its ruling party to probe opposition leader Donald Tusk ahead of elections later this year. This would create a special committee to probe alleged Russian meddling in Poland, with unprecedented powers that could also possibly prevent officials from pursuing public office.
The move “raises serious concerns in terms of conformity with EU law,” Reynders told lawmakers last week, saying the EU won’t hesitate “to take action.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda on Friday proposed measures to soften parts of the legislation in an attempt to defuse the row.
The case is: C-204/21, European Commission v. Republic of Poland.
--With assistance from Piotr Skolimowski and Piotr Bujnicki.
(Updates with Poland, EU responses from ninth paragraph)
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