May 15, 2018 / 2:41 PM / 4 months ago

Poland says more concessions to EU on court reforms would be difficult

WARSAW (Reuters) - It will be difficult for Poland to offer further concessions to the European Commission in a dispute over the country’s judicial reforms, Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said on Tuesday.

The EU executive on Monday gave Poland until late June to settle the row over the independence of its courts that threatens Warsaw’s future access to funding from the bloc.

“As it stands for now, what Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki agreed with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has been more or less implemented and it is hard to seek the possibilities of further concessions,” Czaputowicz told Trojka public radio.

Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party government and the Commission have been at loggerheads for two years over rule of law standards.

In March, Poland started making the first concessions, putting some modest checks on the powers of the justice minister over dismissing court presidents and equalising the retirement age of judges.

In May, in new concessions, the lower chamber of parliament approved a bill that will limit the ability of Poland’s revamped supreme court to effectively overturn past court verdicts. The bill still awaits approval from the Senate and President Andrzej Duda, an ally of PiS.

Frans Timmermans, deputy chief of the Commission, welcomed recent progress in negotiations with Warsaw but said more needed to be done to assuage concerns over democratic checks and balances in the EU’s largest eastern member state.

Last year, the Commission launched for the first time in the bloc’s history the so-called Article 7 punishment procedure escalating a dispute with Poland over rule of law standards.

“Of course we would like the European Commission to take a decision favorable to Poland and to withdraw this procedure, which in our opinion is unjustified,” Czaputowicz said.

“For sure we will try here in Poland to consider these comments from the Commision and will take adequate steps,” Czaputowicz said.

The Commission has announced plans to cut funds paid out to member states that undermine court independence and the rule of law.

Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Editing by Gareth Jones

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