Poland banks on ‘dialogue’ to solve EU rule-of-law row

Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister for Justice Reform and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva (R) and Polish Foreign Minister Minister Jacek Czaputowicz​ (L) talk to media during a press conference during their official meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, 15 January 2018. [Vassil Donev/EPA/EFE]

Warsaw banks on “dialogue” to solve its row with the EU over recent reforms denounced by Brussels as violating the rule of law, Poland’s new Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said on Monday (15 January).

The European Commission last month launched unprecedented judiciary proceedings against the Polish changes, which Brussels says place courts under the control of the right-wing government and threaten democracy.

But Warsaw insists the reforms are needed to overhaul a system still haunted by the communist era.

“We will rely on dialogue for solving this issue,” Czaputowicz said in the Bulgarian capital Sofia during his first official visit abroad since being appointed last week.

“I would like to underline that we expect the intervention of the European Court (of Justice), which is the institution that, according to EU law, is responsible for such issues,” he added.

Czaputowicz’s trip to Bulgaria – the new holder of the bloc’s six-month rotating presidency – comes following a major government reshuffle seen as a clear signal that Warsaw wants to change the tone of its discussion with the EU.

Bulgaria, itself under EU monitoring for deficiencies in its judiciary and organised crime, is quite supportive of Poland in the row with the Commission.

Bulgaria sees little action against Poland any time soon

Member states may not reach a stage where they could take a vote on sanctions against Poland during Bulgaria’s six month EU presidency, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on Thursday (11 January), explaining he would prefer to resolve the crisis through dialogue and avoid sanctions altogether.

Never before used against an EU member state, the so-called Article 7 proceedings can eventually lead to the “nuclear option” of the suspension of a country’s voting rights within the bloc.

This, however, is unlikely to happen as Poland’s ally Hungary has vowed to veto the measure.

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The EU gave Warsaw three months to remedy the situation, saying it could withdraw the measures if it did.

On 27 February, member states will hold their first ministerial meeting with Poland since the EU triggered the proceedings last month.

“Bulgaria as EU Council President will make every effort to continue the dialogue according to the plan that you mapped out – to present your stance and try to bring together the positions in order to find a solution to this really not very pleasant situation,” Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva said after talks with Czaputowicz.

Czaputowicz will travel to Germany later this week and has also asked for a meeting with EU vice-president Frans Timmermans.

Timmermans said on Monday he expected to “present the Commission’s case to the Council” during next month’s meeting.

“Poland will also present its case I suppose,” he told journalists in Brussels, with the Council then set to discuss the next step.

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