Poland Dangles Concession to Help Resolve EU Row Over Court

  • Deputy minister sees possibility of meeting opposition demand
  • Solution is close; dialog ‘constructive,’ EU’s Ansip says

Poland’s government proposed a concession to help resolve a six-month-old conflict over the Constitutional Tribunal that has soured relations with the European Union and dented the country’s democratic reputation.

The ruling Law & Justice party may meet an opposition demand by appointing justices picked for the highest court by the previous parliament, Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski said on Wednesday. Law & Justice, which triggered the row last year by overhauling the tribunal, has opposed calls for President Andrzej Duda, a former party member, to swear in the nominees.

The suggestion is the first specific proposal by Prime Minister Beata Szydlo’s government to defuse the row after the EU’s executive launched its first-ever probe into the rule of law in a member state. Szydlo met European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans on Tuesday and said her administration was ready to take steps to resolve the conflict. She softened her stance compared with a week ago, when she called the investigation the biggest threat to sovereignty since Poland

Szydlo, after meeting commission Vice President Frans Timmermans Tuesday, said her to sovereignty since the fall of communism.

“Some form of introduction of those justices is possible,” Szymanski told TVN24 television on Wednesday. “This is dependent on other aspects of such an agreement.”

The EU’s executive started its investigation in January after Law & Justice overhauled the court, making it more difficult for justices to strike down laws. While the tribunal later ruled the revamp was unconstitutional, Szydlo’s administration has refused to publish the justices’ ruling -- thereby preventing it from taking effect. The government asserts that it was only an “opinion” by an incomplete panel of judges.

‘Constructive Dialog’

Duda, a former Law & Justice member, hasn’t sworn in the three justices picked by the previous parliament, opting instead to appoint three new judges selected by his former party.

Civic Platform, the biggest opposition party, said on Tuesday that publishing the verdict and appointing of the three judges were the “prerequisites” for it to join talks to resolve the crisis, which triggered some of the biggest street protests in Poland since the switch to democratic rule in 1989.

Timmermans briefed other EU commissioners about Poland at a weekly meeting in Brussels on Wednesday and fellow Vice President Andrus Ansip voiced optimism over a quick solution.

“There is a constructive dialog between the European Commission and the Polish government,” Ansip told reporters in Brussels. “I got the understanding that the Polish government wants also to find a way out from this situation” and “my understanding is we’re pretty close to that.”

Tolerance Tested

In a sign that negotiations won’t be easy, Law & Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski lashed out at Andrzej Rzeplinski, the head of the Constitutional Tribunal, in an interview published by Gazeta Polska Codziennie on Tuesday, saying there’s no reason to “tolerate” his “path of dispute and breaking the law.”

Polish assets have underperformed regional peers since October’s election, with the extra yield investors demand to own 10-year government bonds over similar German debt near a two-year high. The zloty has weakened 3.7 percent against the euro this year, the worst performer in the EU’s emerging east.

The zloty advanced 0.3 percent to 4.4126 per euro at 5:27 p.m. in Warsaw, gaining for a second day after falling for the previous five sessions. The rise was fueled by speculation that Szymanski’s comments could push Poland toward resolving the crisis, economists at Bank Millennium SA in Warsaw, led by Grzegorz Maliszewski, said in a research note.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.