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Poland rejects EU criticism of court changes

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AFP Warsaw
Poland's foreign ministry today rejected an EU warning over controversial changes to the country's constitutional court, moves which Brussels insists pose a serious challenge to the rule of law.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation European Union, has set the Polish government a late-February deadline to reverse the changes or face sanctions.

The PiS administration said Monday in its formal reply to Brussels that the changes to the court "are in accordance with European standards applying to the functioning of constitutional courts."

It also insisted that the laws on the court adopted by parliament in November and December are "comprehensive and conclusive in regulating the system and functioning of the court" and in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission, a Council of Europe rights watchdog.

Warsaw also accused European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans of playing politics. He has been one of the EU's most vocal voices urging Warsaw to reverse court reforms regarded by critics as unconstitutional.

It accused Timmermans of "calling for other member states to create a common front with the European Commission against Poland.

"The Polish side regards Frans Timmermans' actions and statements as being politically motivated and aimed at stigmatising a member state."

Since coming to power in late 2015, the PiS government has changed the way the court operates -- including the order in which cases are heard and how the chief justice is chosen -- and has put forward its own judges instead of those approved by the previous parliament.

Critics argue the reforms undermine judicial independence and the system of checks and balances.

They cite other PiS bids to consolidate power including moves to increase state control over public broadcasters.

Clashes over the judicial reforms gave rise to string of large demonstrations by a new popular movement, the Committee for the Defence of Democracy.

The Commission had already in July handed Poland a three-month deadline to reverse changes to the court or face sanctions.

Last week rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, FIDH (the International Federation for Human Rights) and the Open Society European Policy Institute urged the EU to take enforcement action against Warsaw.

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First Published: Feb 21 2017 | 1:07 AM IST

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