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EU extends talks with Poland over rule of law fears

© AFP/File | Demonstrators protest Poland's rightwing nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government over alleged rule of law violations during a ?Freedom March? in Warsaw, on May 6, 2017

BRUSSELS (AFP) - 

The EU agreed Tuesday to continue long drawn-out talks with Poland in a bid to stop its alleged breaches of the rule of law, backing away for now from threatening sanctions.

The move came after ministers from the 28 member states discussed for the first time an EU-Polish standoff that the European Commission, the EU executive, has been trying to resolve for more than a year.

"A strong urge (emerged) from a broad majority of member states that we should continue our efforts to have a dialogue with the Polish authorities," Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans told reporters in Brussels.

In December, the Commission gave Poland's rightwing government two further months to reverse changes to its constitutional court or risk sanctions but then brought the issue before the member states.

Timmermans stated a preference Tuesday for dialogue over sanctions.

"I hope to see a reaction by the Polish government on the basis of today's debate," he said. "I believe dialogue is the only way to reach results."

But he refused to rule out resorting to penalties.

Under article seven of the EU treaty, Warsaw could see the suspension of its voting rights in the Council of Ministers, the EU's highest decision-making body, if Brussels determines there is a serious and persistent violation to the rule of law.

However, the EU would need unanimity of member states to establish that a violation has taken place, with Hungary having already voiced opposition.

Poland's representative told his EU counterparts that the rule of law was not threatened in his country but said his government remained open to dialogue, according to an EU source who took part in the meeting.

Activists at Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders (RSF) said it was time for the EU to "take action under article seven" because talks have been inconclusive.

Activating the article would "send a strong signal to Poland and other member states, as well as the public, that the EU is committed to ensuring compliance with the EU's founding values and that it is ready to do what is needed to preserve them," they said in a joint statement.

© 2017 AFP