Poland must respect top court rulings, says Timmermans
(WARSAW) - The European Commission on Tuesday urged Poland's right-wing government to respect constitutional court rulings as the first step in defusing a crisis that has triggered an unprecedented probe by Brussels.
Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans also said he was upbeat about the possibility of resolving the crisis "without the European Commission having to take any next steps", including possible punitive measures.
"The starting point of the dialogue should be full respect for the ruling of the constitutional tribunal," Timmermans told reporters in Warsaw after talks with senior ministers in the Law and Justice (PiS) government.
PiS plunged Poland into a political crisis when it pushed through legislation in December to pack the nation's top court and modify its decision-making rules, changes which critics have said eliminates the institution as an effective democratic counterweight to check possible government abuses.
Last month the court itself struck down the law as unconstitutional, but the government has refused to respect the judgement.
The European Union launched in January a probe to see if the changes violate EU democracy rules and merit punitive measures, but Timmermans voiced optimism Tuesday that a dialogue begun last week by PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski with opposition leaders in parliament could resolve the crisis.
"I did get the feeling today that there is room for dialogue and room to find a solution, without the European Commission having to take any next steps," he said.
While a lot remains to be done before a resolution of the crisis, Timmermans said he was "encouraged by my first visit to Warsaw" and would return in two weeks.
Since taking office in November 2015, the PiS government has pushed through several pieces of controversial legislation, including strengthening controls over public media, and is trying to introduce measures that would force banks to take huge losses on mortgage loans issued in foreign currencies.
The moves prompted the first-ever downgrade by global ratings agency Standard and Poor's in January.
That month foreign investors pulled out funds from the nation at a rate unseen since the start of the global financial crisis in 2008, Moody's noted this week.