EU Parliament sues EU Commission for failing to hold members accountable over rule of law

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European Parliament sues Commission for failing to hold members accountable over rule of law

Trouble in paradise…

The European Parliament on Friday launched a lawsuit against the European Commission over what it perceives to be a lacklustre attitude in applying a mechanism linking EU funds to rule of law breaches among member states.

“As requested in parliamentary resolutions, our legal service has brought an action against the European Commission for failure to apply the Conditionality Regulation to the Court of Justice today (Friday),” parliamentary speaker David Sassoli said in a statement.

The lawsuit was submitted on Friday by the Parliament’s legal service before the European Court of Justice (ECJ), based in Luxembourg.

“We expect the European Commission to act in a consistent manner and live up to what President von der Leyen stated during our last plenary discussion on this subject. Words have to be turned into deeds,” said the EU Parliament’s president David Sassoli in a statement.

The discord relates to a mechanism in force since the beginning of the year that can be implemented to withhold EU funds from the shared budget among the bloc’s 27 members.

At the centre of the dispute sit Poland and Hungary

The mechanism was set up amid escalating concerns relating to basic standards such as judicial independence and media freedom, in particular in Poland and Hungary.

However, it can only be activated if there is a clear risk of misuse of EU money due to such violations.

Before acting, the European Commission said it wanted to wait for an upcoming European Court of Justice ruling on the legality of the tool linked to legal action brought by Warsaw and Budapest.

MEPs have for weeks threatened the Commission with the lawsuit in an attempt to pressure the executive into activating the mechanism against EU countries accused of democratic backsliding, such as Hungary and Poland. The regulation underpinning the scheme has been in place since January but no step has been officially taken to put it into practice.

Although President von der Leyen has publicly said she was willing to trigger the mechanism, in recent days, she has changed course: her team will now wait until a pending legal case before the ECJ is decided in order to have total legal certainty.

Poland hit with record €1M daily fine in EU rule-of-law dispute

Poland was hit with a record-high daily fine of €1 million for not complying with an EU court order to suspend the country’s controversial disciplinary mechanism for judges, the bloc’s highest court announced on Wednesday. 

The decision comes at a decisive moment in the years-long conflict between Brussels and Warsaw over the rule of law, as the European Commission is looking into how to use different forms of financial pressure to make the Polish government reverse some of its contested judiciary reforms. 

The fine is the highest daily penalty the Court of Justice of the European Union has put on an EU member state in its history. 

The court said Poland had failed to comply with its order, which required Warsaw, among other things, to suspend a judicial disciplinary forum — formally dubbed the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court — until the judges give the final verdict in the case checking its legality. The court said the move “is necessary in order to avoid serious and irreparable harm to the legal order of the European Union and to the values on which that Union is founded, in particular that of the rule-of-law.”

The Polish government swiftly pushed back on the ruling after it was announced. Piotr Müller, the government spokesperson, argued that the power to regulate the judiciary lies with EU countries, not the EU itself. “The punishment and blackmail towards our country is not the right way,” he tweeted. “This is not the model in which the European Union should function.”

Saying: “The European Union is a community of sovereign states governed by clear rules. They show a clear division of competences between the EU and the member states. The issue of regulating the organization of the judiciary is the exclusive competence of the Member States.”

Wednesday’s ruling stems from a dispute going back several months. In April, the European Commission started a legal case against Poland over a new law for disciplining judges, dubbed the “muzzle law.” In July, the EU court ordered the immediate suspension of the Disciplinary Chamber until it rules in the case. More recently, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said he will dismantle the chamber later this year, without offering specifics.  

Since the disciplinary chamber has continued to function, the European Commission requested that Poland pay a daily penalty that would get Poland to comply with the order “as soon as possible.”

Poland will have to pay the sum from the time it receives Wednesday’s decision until it fully complies with the obligation — or if it fails to comply, until the final judgment in this case. 

The disagreement is part of a broader spat between Warsaw and Brussels over the rule of law.

Meanwhile, Poland summoned Belgium’s ambassador on Friday to express “disapproval and indignation” after Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo accused Warsaw of “playing with fire” as the dispute with the EU over the rule of law continued to escalate.

Ambassador Luc Jacobs was summoned to see Deputy Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek, the Polish foreign ministry said.

The ministry added that the De Croo’s “public comments do not contribute to a good climate in Polish-Belgian relations.”

Poland’s parliament is set to vote later on Friday on a law banning Pride parades and other public gestures in support of LGBTQ rights. If approved, Warsaw will only distance itself even further from Brussels as the EU has already spoken of Poland’s “violations of fundamental rights of LGBTQ people.”

jsi/wd (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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