March 22, 2018 / 6:25 PM / 6 months ago

Poland plans concessions on judicial reforms to assuage EU concerns - lawmaker

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s ruling party plans to change some of its judicial reforms in response to European Commission criticism that they threaten to undermine the rule of law, one of the party’s lawmakers said on Thursday.

Reacting to the lawmaker’s comments, an EU official said there was a chance the two sides could reach a compromise.

Poland’s right-wing government and the Commission have been at loggerheads for two years over rule of law standards, with Warsaw for months declining to make any concessions to Brussels.

The Commission has threatened to punish Poland, including by suspending Warsaw’s vote at the EU, if it does not withdraw changes that Brussels said ultimately threatened democracy.

It was not immediately clear if the planned concessions would be enough to satisfy the EU’s demands, however.

“This is a step in the direction to ease the concerns presented by the European Commission,” Law and Justice (PiS) party Marek Ast told Reuters. “We hope that these steps will be positively received by the European Commision.”

Under the changes now planned by PiS, the justice minister would first have to seek the opinion of judges before deciding whether to dismiss a court president, Ast said.

Under the original judicial overhaul, the justice minister was granted discretionary powers to replace court presidents without seeking any secondary opinion, without having to provide any justification and subject to no review.

The European Commission has said this, along with several other changes introduced by PiS, has put at risk the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers in Poland, the largest of the eastern economies in the EU.

Asked if more concessions were possible, Ast said: “We are open to a dialogue with the European Commission. Surprises are possible.”

PiS’s concessions come after the Commission dismissed Poland’s latest defence of its court reforms on Tuesday.

An EU official said Poland has informed the Commission of possible amendments to the judicial reforms, with a view to seeking a compromise before a debate on the bloc’s next long-term budget from 2021 gets under way.

“It looks like things are moving. There’s a chance of a compromise,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

The second concession currently planned by PiS would equalise the compulsory retirement age of female and male judges at 65 years, Ast said.

The initial judicial overhaul set the compulsory retirement age at 60 years for female judges and 65 for male judges, meaning almost 40 percent of Supreme Court judges would be forced into retirement.

Reporting by Pawel Sobczak and Marcin Goettig, additional reporting by Anna Koper and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Writing by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Hugh Lawson

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