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EU executive at risk of taking sides in Polish politics - deputy minister

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission is at risk of taking sides in a political debate in Poland by launching of the rule of law procedure on Warsaw, Polish deputy foreign minister Konrad Szymanski said on Wednesday.

A woman holds an EU and Polish flags during an anti-government demonstration for free media in front of the Polish television building in Warsaw, January 9, 2016. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

In an unprecedented move, the European Union executive arm launched an inquiry on Wednesday into whether Poland’s new right-wing government has breached EU democratic standards in taking more control of the judiciary and public media.

“I have the impression that the Commission risks taking a role as a side in a political dispute inside Poland,” Szymanski told reporters in the European Parliament.

Szymanski has otherwise sought to tone down the spat, saying that Warsaw was ready for more dialogue with the Commission and that he was sure that would be enough to settle the situation.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans dismissed any political motives for the Wednesday decision.

“This has nothing to do with politics whatsoever,” he told a regular media briefing.

“Internal politics of Poland do not concern me, I don’t know about it and I don’t want to know about it, I am simply looking at the measures taken and how they relate to the rule of law in Poland,” he said.

The rule of law procedure was set up two years ago in response to criticism that the EU had done too little to curb authoritarian moves by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban over the past several years.

Timmermans, who in his previous role as a centre-left Dutch foreign minister was one of the architects of the new Rule of Law Framework, said it would allow for a “structured dialogue” with Warsaw.

“I am pleased that the word that was used most often was ‘dialogue’,” Szymanski said of Timmermans’ remarks. “We also hope this is only about dialogue and we are ready for dialogue.”

Timmermans said he wanted Warsaw to explain why two judgements of the Constitutional Tribunal were not applied and why the terms of the president and vice-president of the top court were shortened.

He is also seeking an explanation to the purpose of changing the tribunal’s voting procedures which would make the court’s work more difficult.

“We would insist that the questions are phrased precisely because we have provided much information to the Commission in recent days and we are not entirely clear as to what the Commission is still not clear about,” Szymanski said.

writing by Jan Strupczewski