January 28, 2020 / 10:54 AM / 21 days ago

EU Commissioner says door for dialogue with Poland is open

WARSAW (Reuters) - The door to a dialogue between Poland and the European Union on judicial reform is open and the EU hopes to find a long-term solution to tensions between Warsaw and Brussels, EU Values and Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourova said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: European Values and Transparency Commissioner-designate Vera Jourova of Czech Republic speaks during her hearing before the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Since coming to power in 2015, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party introduced a series of judicial reforms which critics and EU officials say may breach the rule of law.

Last week, Poland’s top court said rulings made by judges appointed under new government rules could be challenged, resulting in a number of cases being postponed. On the same day, parliament passed a law that critics say aims to muzzle judges.

The European Commission said last week it was “very concerned” about the situation - a message it has repeated since the law was proposed late last year.

“(I want) to have a message back for (European Commission President) Ursula von der Leyen...that the door for the dialogue with Poland is open,” Jourova told journalists.

Jourova is in Warsaw to meet officials, including Poland’s Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, to discuss reforms to the judicial system, including a new law that critics say would muzzle judges.

The threat for Poland is that Brussels may limit funding for countries that infringe the rule of law, said Polish Senate speaker and opposition politician Tomasz Grodzki, who was one of the first officials to meet Jourova on Tuesday.

“We met today in order to avoid the danger of freezing funds for Poland,” Grodzki told reporters after the meeting. He added that the EU could set up a body that will establish whether EU countries infringe the rule of law.

“This body will have to produce a document that will be the starting point for further budget decisions,” Grodzki said.

The PiS government has asked the Constitutional Tribunal to investigate whether the Supreme Court had the right to rule on the legitimacy of judges appointed under the new proposals.

The European Commission said last week that the independence and legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal has been seriously undermined and it is no longer able to provide effective constitutional review.

The Commission also asked the EU’s highest court to freeze the new law passed by parliament on Thursday that allows for disciplining judges who are critical of government changes to the judiciary.

Reporting by Marcin Goclowski and Pawel Florkiewicz; Writing by Joanna Plucinska, Editing by Agnieszka Barteczko, William Maclean

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