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Poland warns of 'populist' backlash to EU action

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Brussels (AFP)

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Thursday handed Brussels a detailed defence of Warsaw's controversial judicial reforms and warned that any EU disciplinary action could fuel a "populist" backlash.

The EU in December launched unprecedented legal action against Warsaw's rightwing government over "systemic threats" to the independence of the Polish judiciary, and gave it three months to comply.

With a deadline of March 20 looming, Morawiecki gave the Polish government's 96-page "white paper" to European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker as part of a dialogue to end a two-year row.

"We expect a deep and serious analysis of this document," Morawiecki told a press conference in Brussels.

Morawiecki called the talks "very constructive, very promising".

Juncker's spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the commission "will assess it (the white paper) carefully".

Warsaw could be stripped of its voting rights in the 28-nation bloc under the Article 7 procedure of the EU treaty -- covering systemic threats to the rule of law -- which had never been previously used against an EU state.

Poland's ally Hungary, which has also clashed with Brussels over democracy issues, has vowed to veto any such measure.

A summary of the Polish document said the EU had no justification for the Article 7 procedure because Polish judges "enjoy very strong guarantees" of independence, and because the reforms resemble regulations in other EU democracies.

It warned the proceedings could create a "dangerous precedent" for undermining the sovereignty of EU member states and fuel "populist political forces".

Morawiecki -- whose efforts to improve Poland's image since his appointment in December have been marred by a row over a Holocaust law -- has called criticism of his country the result of "misunderstandings".

Polish officials said the document outlined the aim of the reforms, their historical context and ways to implement them.

Poland began overhauling the judiciary after the rightwing Law and Justice Party (PiS) came to power in late 2015 in what observers called a populist wave.

The PiS said the reforms are needed to combat corruption and weed out holdovers from the communist era.

The summary document argued that the reforms guaranteed as much independence as judicial procedures in Spain, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, and Britain.

On top of earlier court reforms, Poland's rightwing dominated parliament in December adopted reforms allowing it to choose members of a body designed to protect judicial independence and reinforce political control over the Supreme Court.

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