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EU mulls sanctions against Poland over court reform

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BRUSSELS  -  The EU holds high-level talks on Wednesday on whether to act on its threat to sanction the Polish government over its bid to exert control over national courts.

The European Union last week warned the right-wing government in Warsaw against enacting new bills that would further undermine the judiciary's independence, which EU treaties guarantee.

Polish President Andrzej Duda surprised many Monday when he vetoed two of the controversial reforms but later signed into law a third bill despite opposition from Polish demonstrators.

With only one of the reforms adopted, it was not clear what steps, if any, EU First Vice President Frans Timmermans will announce on Wednesday.

The commission, the 28-nation EU executive, last week urged Poland to put the reforms on hold and warned it would "swiftly prepare infringement procedures for breach of EU law" against Warsaw.

Under these procedures to be debated on Wednesday, EU states can be hauled before the bloc's highest court and eventually given stiff fines for the breaches.

Duda on Tuesday signed into law one of the reforms while Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo insisted that her Law and Justice (PiS) party would press ahead with the others.

"These laws considerably increase the systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland," Timmermans warned last week, adding that together they would put the judiciary under full government control.

- 'Nuclear option' -


On top of possible infringement proceedings, Timmermans said the EU is also "very close to triggering Article 7," the bloc's never-before used "nuclear option" that can halt a country's right to vote in EU decision-making.

However, populist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has vowed he would instantly veto any such move by the EU against a sovereign country.

Ultimately, officials admit that Brussels is not fully prepared for events like those in Poland.

When the EU brought in Article 7 it was less a response to fears about the rule of law in the wave of eastern states like Poland joining after 2004, but more as a backstop that had little chance of being used.

EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova meanwhile said the Polish crisis had caused a "very high level of nervosity" about whether it would "affect the whole EU system of mutual recognition of court decisions".

The new government headed by the PiS, which won the 2015 elections, triggered its first warning from Brussels last year after reforming the Constitutional Court.

This month it pushed through a bill that would have reinforced political control over the Supreme Court and another allowing parliament to choose members of a body designed to protect the independence of the courts.

But Duda vetoed those two while signing into law the third measure that allows the justice minister to unilaterally replace the chief justices of the common courts, which include appeal courts.

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Muslim Global: EU mulls sanctions against Poland over court reform
EU mulls sanctions against Poland over court reform
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