(CN) – Greece must pay a $4.2 million penalty, despite its current financial woes, for its untimely adoption of a law required by EU member states, the European Union’s highest court ruled Thursday.
The European Commission first ruled against the nation in 2007, finding that Greece had failed to comply with a July 1, 2005, deadline, set by the Council of the European Union, to create a compensation system for victims of crime in cross-border situations.
The commission set a two-month deadline and threatened financial penalties in September 2008 after Greece explained that it was in the final stages of drafting a law that would ensure the country’s compliance.
But Greece still had not acted upon the directive by the following year. The country claimed that September 2009 parliamentary elections had reset all unfinished legislation. The European Commission countered with a second action the following month. A judgment from that case ordered the country to pay fines for each day it had ignored the commission’s judgments. The first fine, of $102,800 a day, would accumulate from Oct. 22 of that year until Greece met its obligation. The second fine, of $14,900 a day, was backdated to toll from the 2007 judgment until the most recent judgment.
When Greece finally published a law in compliance with EU standards on Dec. 18, the commission said it would drop the $102,800-a-day penalty. It insisted, however, that Greece pay a lump sum for ignoring the 2007 judgment.
In justification of its legislative delays, Greece pointed out that it could not pass the law as an unfunded mandate. It said it needed to find the financial resources to compensate cross-border crime victims, as required by the new law. By the time it did, it had run into parliamentary elections – an unforeseeable circumstance.
But the EU Court of Justice ruled that the delays were too excessive, and that the law had an important objective. When the court offered to lower the backdated penalty by $370 a day, Greece said it did not have the ability to pay and that the court was relying on outdated financial data. It also pointed out that it was not at risk of a repeat offense.
Finally the court settled on a total fine of $4.2 million and ordered Greece to pay the commission’s legal costs.