May 4, 2018 / 4:47 PM / 17 days ago

Poland plans new concessions to EU over contested court reforms

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party plans new concessions on its contested judicial reforms to assuage the European Union, which has threatened to cut funds for Warsaw over rule of law concerns.

Poland’s right-wing government and the European Commission have been at loggerheads for more than two years over the judicial overhaul, which the EU executive says harms democracy.

This week the Commission announced plans to cut funds paid out to member states that undermine court independence and the rule of law.

“We hope that this (new) proposal will be satisfactory for the European Commission and for the domestic audience,” PiS deputy Marek Ast, head of the parliament’s lawmaking committee, told Reuters.

Ast said that parliament could debate the new bill next week and that PiS wanted it approved as soon as possible.

One key new Polish concession would restrict the right of Poland’s supreme court to effectively overturn past court verdicts, the draft bill published by parliament showed.

Under a so-called extraordinary appeal procedure approved last year, the supreme court gained the right to overturn court verdicts from the last two decades, a move critics said could destabilise the whole judicial system.

Another concession in the new proposal would give the president the right to appoint junior judges instead of the justice minister, who is also the prosecutor general.

COMPROMISE?

EU and Polish officials have previously signalled that a potential compromise should be agreed before EU ministers are due to discuss the matter at a May 14 meeting.

“We want to show some openness to the Commission’s demands in order to close this case and deal with other important European matters like the budget,” Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz told reporters on a visit to Brussels on Friday.

After talks with Czaputowicz, the deputy head of the Commission, Frans Timmermans, who leads the talks with Poland, said Brussels would wait to see the new laws once they are approved by the Polish parliament.

Last year, the EU launched the so-called Article 7 procedure against Poland over measures by the ruling party the Commission said would undermine the independence of the courts.

Keen to end the Article 7 procedure, Warsaw has already offered some concessions. Last month, the parliament approved new legislation that modestly limits the power of the justice minister to dismiss court presidents.

However, the EU said that move was not sufficient.

Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Editing by Gareth Jones

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