April 5, 2016 / 1:17 PM / 2 years ago

EU top official says Poland must respect top court's ruling on reforms

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s constitutional crisis which has set it at odds with its Western allies could still be solved through dialogue, but the Warsaw government must first bow to a key court ruling which it has so far rejected, a top EU official said on Tuesday.

European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans gives a news conference at the European Commission representation office in Warsaw, April 5, 2016. REUTERS/Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta

The eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party has faced growing pressure from the European Union, the United States and other bodies since it swept to power in Poland last October and tightened control on media and other institutions.

The conservative party is now under threat of action by the European Commission for reshuffling the judges in the constitutional tribunal and changing the court’s decision-making powers - moves which critics say paralyses the top body and threatens the rule of law in the country.

A rule of law procedure instituted by the European Commission could end up with Poland, the EU’s largest eastern member state, being suspended from voting in the Commission.

Frans Timmermans, the Commission’s first vice president and one of several European officials in Warsaw who are trying to save the situation, struck an optimistic tone on Tuesday.

“I don’t want to prejudge, or pre-empt any next steps,” Timmermans told a news conference after meeting Polish officials.

“Why? Because I did get the feeling today that there is room for dialogue and room for finding a solution (to the crisis) without the European Commission having to take any next steps.”

But he insisted that the Warsaw government would first have to recognize the constitutional tribunal’s ruling that its legislation was unconstitutional - something which the government has refused to do so far.

“The starting point of the dialogue should be full respect for the rulings of the constitutional tribunal - rulings that in my view should be published and implemented,” Timmermans said.

Thorbjoern Jagland, head of the pan-European rights body the Council of Europe, expressed similar views on Monday. Jagland added that the constitutional court paralysis puts Poland at risk of a lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights.

Reporting by Wiktor Szary and Adrian Krajewski; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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