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Ursula von der Leyen doesn’t mess about. The European Commission’s president was deadly serious when she warned Poland’s Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, last week that the EU would punish the country for ignoring its demands for controversial judicial reform.

And so it has, with bells on. The EU’s Court of Justice has ruled that Poland must pay one million euros (£845,000) a day in fines for not going through with the required changes to its courts.  

The ECJ will continue the daily fines until the Warsaw government agrees to comply with a ruling issued in July which demanded that the Poles suspend the disciplinary chamber of judges of its Supreme Court.

Behind the move is the belief in Brussels that the chamber is a body that the ruling party gave the power to discipline judges. EU officials claim this is a threat to the country’s judicial independence because it allows the judges to be subject to political control, putting pressure on judges to rule in favour of the PM’s government.

In response, Morawiecki’s government argues that the court is essential to its commitment to rid the country of the relics of communist rule. He has also said the chamber will be abolished but as part of broader reforms which have yet to be announced.

The new fines will be deducted from the EU funds received by Poland. Last year the country received more than €18 billion, by far the biggest subsidy of any EU country. 

According to the ECJ’s vice president, the dismantling of the chamber of judges is necessary “to avoid serious and irreparable harm to the legal order of the European Union and, consequently, to the rights which individuals derive from EU law and the values on which that Union is founded, in particular, that of the rule of law.”

Where the war between the EU and Poles goes from here is anyone’s guess. It’s certainly not going to calm down anytime soon although fears of a Polexit are still wide of the mark as the Poles depend on generous EU funds.

But in his spat with von der Leyen last week, the Polish PM made it clear that he would not be giving into the EU’s demands following a ruling by its Supreme Court that EU law should not take precedence over Polish law.  Moraweicki argued that the way EU law is being applied generally stops Poland from applying its own constitution and could force it to apply unconstitutional laws laid down by EU courts. 

As the PM said after the threat of sanctions, the bloc is starting “World War III” and “putting a gun to our head”. He accused the EU of “starving” and “punishing” his country by withholding £48bn in Covid relief money. And after today’s fines, the deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta tweeted that the one million euro fine was “usurpation and blackmail”. 

The word from Brussels was equally inflammatory. Belgian Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo, quipped: “You cannot pocket all the money but refuse the values,” and warned Poland not to treat the EU like “a cash machine.”

All sounds very familiar.