EU backs off threat against Poland over country's judicial crisis

The European Commission on Tuesday backed off a threat to escalate an unprecedented inquiry into whether the Polish government's reforms to the country's top court violated the bloc's fundamental values.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmerman travelled to Warsaw to meet Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, whose conservative government announced the controversial judicial measures after taking office in November.

After the talks, both stressed that the issue was an internal matter that should be resolved in Poland but offered no further details.

Szydlo said her government was working with the Commission in a "spirit of cooperation."

The row between Warsaw and the EU revolves around changes to the 15-judge Constitutional Tribunal, including a new two-thirds majority for verdicts to take effect and a rule that requires the court to take cases in the order in which they were filed.

The government and the tribunal have been in a standoff for weeks, after the tribunal's judges ruled in March that the changes to the court are unconstitutional. The government refuses to recognize the ruling.

Critics say the new measures are intended to strengthen the grip of Szydlo's Law and Justice on the judicial branch and would undermine democracy and rule of law.

The Venice Commission, a body of constitutional law experts that is part of the 47-member Council of Europe, said the reforms "undermine democracy, human rights and the rule of law."

The European Commission, which is the 28-member EU's executive, launched an initial inquiry into the Polish reforms in January, using an unprecedented mechanism aimed at protecting the bloc's fundamental values. The step could lead to Poland's suspension of voting rights in the bloc.

The Commission gave Warsaw until the start of this week to show progress in ending the standoff with the tribunal or else a formal set of objections would be issued.

But Timmermans stepped down from that threat on Tuesday.

Timmermans decided "in light of the process that is ongoing" not to exercise the power he was granted to issue a so-called rule of law opinion, Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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