Polish government expects agreement with EU in court dispute soon

The Polish government and the European Commission are close to an agreement over reforms to the nation's top court that have drawn international criticism, Polish Minister for European Affairs Konrad Szymanski said Tuesday.

"Today it appears as though we're close to an agreement," Szmanski said.

The row 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.

Critics say they are intended to strengthen the government's grip on the judicial branch and would undermine democracy and rule of law.

In the afternoon, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo will meet with European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans in Warsaw.

Poland wants to protect its sovereignty and at the same time remain open to cooperation with European institutions, Szymanski said.

"Personal contact is important for mutual trust, which is the goal of this meeting."

In January, the European Commission, which is the European Union's executive, launched an inquiry into the Polish reforms, using an unprecedented mechanism aimed at protecting the bloc's fundamental values.

Last week, the commission said it will give Poland until the start of this week to respond to its concerns or else it will issue a formal set of objections if substantial progress is not made.

Should the EU continue its inquiry and Poland choose not to comply, the country could, in theory, ultimately face a suspension of voting rights in the EU.

But on Tuesday Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans backed off the threat of issuing formal objections.

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 if Poland did not deliver progress by the end of Monday, spokesman Margaritis Schinas said.

In March, the Venice Commission, a body of constitutional law experts that is part of the 47-member Council of Europe, lambasted Poland's judicial reforms, saying they "undermine democracy, human rights and the rule of law."

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

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