January 7, 2016 / 2:30 PM / 2 years ago

EU's Juncker says sanctions on Poland over disputed laws unlikely

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and members of the European Commission arrives at the National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam January 7, 2016. REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters/United Photos

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The European Union is unlikely to punish Poland over two widely criticized laws passed by the new Polish government and hopes talks between Brussels and Warsaw will resolve the issue, the head of the bloc’s executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, said.

The European Commission, led by Juncker, will debate the rule of law in Poland next week, with one EU official having called for a supervision procedure that could lead to Warsaw’s voting rights in the 28-nation bloc being suspended.

But Juncker said on Thursday that option, known as the Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union, was unlikely.

“Now we are in discussions with Poland and I don’t want to speculate about further consequences, which could be entailed by the application of Article 7. We are not there, I don’t think we will get to that point,” he told a news conference in Amsterdam.

“Let’s not overdramatize ... We have to have friendly and good relations with Poland so our approach is very constructive. We are not bashing Poland.”

Ties between Warsaw and Brussels have become more tense since Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party won national elections last October and moved swiftly to bring the country’s state media under direct government control.

Those changes were passed into law on Thursday by Polish president Andrzej Duda, giving the treasury minister the authority to appoint managers of state-run radio and television stations.

Another new law affects Poland’s top constitutional court and critics have accused the PiS government of eating away at democratic principles in the EU’s largest eastern economy, which joined the bloc in 2004.

Brussels has sent letters to Warsaw asking for clarification and expressing concerns over the two laws but Juncker’s deputy, Frans Timmermans, said there had been no reply.

The new government in Poland, which espouses socially minded economic policies with conservative Catholic values and euroskepticism, denies accusations that it is undermining democracy in Poland, a country that overthrew communism in 1989.

Timmermans said democratization of the eastern EU members, which were all within the Soviet sphere of influence after World War Two, has been a major accomplishment of European integration and the bloc was determined to safeguard it.

EU officials stressed that a new procedure for addressing concerns over member states’ respect for European values, introduced last year, had yet to be triggered for the first time. Next week’s discussion by the Commission is still only a preliminary stage to assess whether to launch the process.

Additional reporting by Adrian Krajewski in WARSAW; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Louise Ireland

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