Poland willing to mull compromise with EU on rule of law: justice minister

By Marcin Goclowski and Joanna Plucinska

WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland is willing to consider a compromise with the European Union on its selection of judges under certain conditions, its justice minister said on Tuesday after talks with a senior EU official on rule of law concerns.

“I declared readiness to convince my colleagues from the ruling camp to consider coming up with a new model for choosing judges,” Zbigniew Ziobro told journalists after meeting EU Values and Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourova in Warsaw.

Jourova, however, said she did not gather from the meeting that any compromise had been proposed, adding that the discussion focused on differences in position and these were very clear.

She added the door to a dialogue between Poland and the EU on judicial reform was open and the EU hoped to find a long-term solution to tensions between Warsaw and Brussels.

Since coming to power in 2015, Poland’s eurosceptic, nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party has introduced a series of judicial reforms which EU officials and democracy activists say may breach the bloc’s standards on rule of law.

Last week, Poland’s Supreme Court said rulings made by judges appointed under new government rules could be challenged, resulting in a number of cases being postponed.

On the same day, parliament passed a law that critics say aims to muzzle judges. The European Commission has asked the EU’s highest court to freeze the new law, which allows for disciplining judges critical of government changes to the judiciary.

The European Commission said last week it was “very concerned” about the situation – a message it has repeated since the law was proposed late last year.

The threat for Poland is that Brussels may limit funding for countries that infringe the rule of law, said Polish Senate speaker and opposition politician Tomasz Grodzki, who was one of the first officials to meet Jourova on Tuesday.

“(I want) to have a message back for (European Commission President) Ursula von der Leyen…that the door for the dialogue with Poland is open,” Jourova told journalists in Warsaw.

The PiS government has asked Poland’s constitutional court to examine whether the Supreme Court, the top judicial body, has the right to rule on the legitimacy of judges appointed under its reforms.

The European Commission said last week that the independence and legitimacy of the constitutional court had been seriously undermined by PiS reforms.

(Additional reporting by Pawel Florkiewicz and Alicja Ptak; Editing by Mark Heinrich)