The decision of the European court was made extremely quickly and was unique. Thursday, just seven days after the receipt of the application by the European Commission, the European court ordered the immediate cessation of the felling of forests in the Polish Bialowieza forest. Usually the court is very restrained with such requirements, and the fact that he never even heard before that the Polish government, makes this case even more unusual. Obviously, the judges fear that natural heritage will be irreparably damaged, even before the final verdict.
However, and this can now happen — for the Polish government stated that it would not comply with the decree of the European court. For example, remnant forest on the border between Poland and Belarus, the last forest of its kind in Europe, will now become clear whether the EU to protect its legal system from autocrats in their own ranks.
The European Commission has tightened in the medium tone. If deforestation continues, then the matter will be included in the current investigation for the protection of the rule of law in Poland. It is talking about the offensive of the Polish government on national courts. The implementation of the decisions of the European court is “an integral part of the European law, which is the whole of the EU” — said in defence of this step, the representative of the Commission. If, say, a country-member EU “stubbornly refuses” to comply with court decisions, there is a “clear correlation” with the protection of a legal state.
“A serious threat, as advocated by the EU”
However, the Polish national-conservative party “law and justice” (Pis) seem to be a little worried that the last word on matters of EU law is the European court. “We act in accordance with the laws of the EU,” said Polish environment Minister Jan Szyszko (Jan Szyszko), justifying the disrespect of a court order. The representative of the forest of Poland said that should continue with “protective measures”. The government of the IPR claims that deforestation is to prevent the spread of bark beetle. However, scientists believe it is not very convincing. Environmentalists believe that government in General just wants to sell more wood.
Observers make it crucial. “Failure to comply with the requirements of the European court calls into question the foundations of Poland’s membership in the Union as a legal community,” says Stefanie Weiss (Weiß Stefani), Director of the Brussels office of the Bertelsmann Foundation.
Also expert in European law from göttingen Alexander Thiele (Alexander Thiele) said the case “highly questionable”. However, in the past, they say, happens, the member States of the EU at least sometimes ignored the decisions of the European court, including Germany. However, the behaviour of Poland, he sees a new quality, as the European court has applied its “sharpest sword”. “Virtually unthinkable that Germany and France defied the order,” — said Thiele. The Polish government, he said, calls into question the competence of the European court to adjudicate in matters of dispute. It is “a serious threat that acts of the EU. We are in a situation where legal the state has to prove himself.”
Fines could be painful to touch on the government IPRs
The question of whether it remains open. Thus, the Commission could use ignoring Poland order Pushcha as an additional argument to use against Warsaw the so-called “nuclear option”. While this refers to the case in accordance with article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty because of the constant violations of basic values of the EU. In extreme cases this can lead to the deprivation of the country the right to vote.
Although Hungary has already announced its veto against such sanctions. However, the European Commission may affect the Polish government at least in this case, another sore spot: money. If Poland loses the case in the Bialowieza forest, she faces a total fine of at least four million euros. However, conceivable is, according to Thiele, also a significantly higher amount, the upper limit is not provided. In addition, there may be additional fine in 302.250 euros for every day that the government of ignoring this sentence.
If the government IPRs refuse to pay, the Commission can simply get the money from somewhere else, for example, funds earmarked for structural reforms. In any case, a great choice, because Poland is the largest margin recipient of money from the EU. In 2015 Warsaw received about 13.4 billion euros in additional payments — almost two times more than the Czech Republic, the second largest recipient. EU money be more than 3% of Polish GDP.
Accrued mandatory penalties with percentages is a tool which is regularly used by the European Commission. “As long as there is an instrument of monetary penalties, the quota of the execution of the European court has increased significantly,” says legal expert Thiele. “And in the case of Poland, the Commission, perhaps, make this happen.”
The European court of justice forbade the Polish government to continue the controversial felling in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Warsaw, however, said he would ignore the order. Thus, the national-conservative government in Warsaw opposes not only the courts in their own country, but also the highest legal authority of the EU. The observers demand a tough response.