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08/12/2016

Poland rejects EU demands on court crisis

Central Europe

Poland rejects EU demands on court crisis

Witold Waszczykowski

[Wikipedia/Flickr]

Poland’s foreign minister on Friday (28 October) said his right-wing government rejects the EU executive’s recommendations regarding how to solve a constitutional crisis that has raised concerns at home and abroad.

“We don’t agree with the one-sided interpretation made by the European Commission,” Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said in an interview with Polish radio.

The populist Law and Justice (PiS) government pushed through controversial changes to Poland’s constitutional court’s decision-making rules soon after sweeping to power a year ago.

The reforms have alarmed the European Union and triggered a string of street protests, with the opposition claiming they are intended to paralyse the court and undermine democracy.

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In July, the European Commission handed Warsaw a three-month deadline to reverse changes to the top court — by notably publishing and implementing court rulings — or face sanctions for breaching EU norms on the rule of law and democracy.

Poland’s foreign ministry called the Commission’s recommendations “groundless” in a statement late Thursday.

“We regret to note that the Commission recommendation is an expression of incomplete knowledge about how the legal system and the Constitutional Tribunal operate in Poland,” the ministry said.

Warsaw did not make public its response to the Commission, which local media said spanned a dozen pages.

A Commission spokesman said Friday they had received the government’s letter and “will assess the situation in due course”.

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The PiS government continues to make changes to the court’s functioning, including a new proposal just tabled in parliament that would change how the chief justice is elected — and would enable the government to choose the person, according to the opposition.

The Council of Europe, the continent’s top human rights watchdog, and the European Parliament have also expressed their concerns and urged the government to backtrack on its reforms.

Warsaw has responded that it is not the EU’s place to interfere in Polish internal affairs.

Poland’s refusal to follow the EU recommendations on the court crisis could eventually see its voting rights suspended in the Council of Ministers, the EU’s highest decision-making body.

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