WARSAW (Reuters) - A senior member of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) signaled on Wednesday it was ready to give some ground to end a constitutional standoff with the EU, though his leader kept up his criticism of Europe in the local press.
The right-wing, eurosceptic government has been caught up in an unprecedented row with Brussels institutions over changes it made to Poland’s constitutional court that critics say weakened the institution key to upholding democratic checks and balances.
The European Commission launched an investigation into the changes in January, raising the prospect of Poland becoming the first EU member to face sanctions for failing to uphold the rule of law.
But Poland’s prime minister, Beata Szydlo, said after talks with the Commission’s deputy head Frans Timmermans in Warsaw on Tuesday that a compromise was in sight.
On Wednesday, Poland’s deputy foreign minister, Konrad Szymanski, signaled that Warsaw might accept some judges appointed by the last administration that it had earlier rejected.
“It is not about concessions in this process, it is not about European Commissions’s concessions, but it is all about solutions which will meet all sides’ expectations,” Szymanski told private broadcaster TVN24.
“No aspect of this solution should be treated separately. Some form of introducing these judges is possible, I don’t know if all of them, I don’t know in what order - it depends on other aspects of the accord,” he said.
Back in Brussels, Timmermans briefed the Commission on his talks in Warsaw and the executive is due to return to the theme next Wednesday, officials said.
It could then decide whether to escalate its formal investigation into whether the rule of law in Poland is under threat under PiS. The maximum, though unlikely, sanction would be stripping Poland of its voting rights in the EU.
Poland’s president, a PiS ally, refused in December to swear in three judges who were chosen by the previous administration, and instead appointed three new ones picked by the ruling party, leaving the top court all but paralyzed at the heart of a bitter political dispute.
Opposition critics say PiS’s efforts to overhaul the constitutional tribunal are part of a broader plan to seize more control over state institutions, infringing on rules of democratic governance.
PiS, which swooped to power after a landmark election victory in October, says it is only trying to make the constitutional court more effective and transparent, and calls any criticism politically motivated.
Its policies have triggered protests in Warsaw over the last few months. But its eurosceptic message remains popular among large parts of the electorate - opinion polls have actually shown a slight increase in support, boosted in part by generous social spending programs.
“Nobody is attacking the constitutional court,” party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski said in an interview with Gazeta Polska daily published on Wednesday.
“The European elites are simply unable to come to terms with the democratic choice of Polish voters ... They don’t like their choice because it runs against their interests. It’s obvious.”
Kaczynski, the twin brother of President Lech who died in a plane crash in 2010 over Russia, does not hold any government office but remains the main PiS decision-maker.
Since coming to power, the nationalist-minded group has tightened its grip on the secret services and public media, increased the number of constitutional court judges required to make rulings and changed the order in which it hears cases.
Polish assets have suffered in recent months. The zloty currency fell to a three-month low against the euro on Monday, with traders blaming the constitutional row.
Reporting by Marcin Goclowski and Adrian Krajewski in Warsaw, Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels,; Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Ralph Boulton