EU hails 'genuine dialogue' with Poland to end court reform row

Brussels (Belgium) (AFP) –


Poland and the European Union are now engaged in a "genuine dialogue" toward ending a row over Polish reforms Brussels fears undermine judicial independence, a top EU official said Wednesday.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans welcomed talks he had Monday with the right-wing government in Warsaw and said he was "encouraged" by changes to the reforms Poland's parliament was debating.

"I am glad that we are now in a genuine dialogue," Timmermans told a news conference in Brussels.

"I see willingness of the Polish government to find a solution," the Dutchman said. "I hope we can make substantial steps forward in the days and weeks to come."

Brussels on December 20 launched unprecedented legal action against Warsaw over "systemic threats" to the independence of the Polish judiciary, and gave it three months to say how it will comply.

Warsaw handed Brussels a reply on March 20, which the commission is now studying.

Timmermans called for ending the two-year-long standoff "as quickly as possible" when he met with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Foreign Minister Jacek Jacek Czaputowicz and others in Warsaw on Monday.

"This is actually for me the first time that in Warsaw we actually went to the concrete discussion about the issues," Timmermans said upon returning to Brussels.

He said the "Polish government has a vision" about how to resolve the differences with Brussels.

He said the goal is to "find solutions so that there is no longer a systemic threat to rule of law in Poland," rejecting the notion of a compromise.

"We have seen that in the Polish parliament over the last days and weeks some changes and amendments have been introduced and I was encouraged by some of them," he said.

For example, he said he understands that the parliament no longer supports a difference in the retirement age between male and female judges.

"If that than becomes law that is already a good step in right direction," Timmermans said.

The stakes are high if Warsaw fails to satisfy Brussels.

It could be stripped of its voting rights in the 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.

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