European Parliament urges Poland to observe rule of law

September 14, 2016 9:24 AM EDT

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By Jan Strupczewski

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Parliament urged Poland's eurosceptic government on Wednesday to resolve the country's constitutional crisis by the end of October, saying the paralysis of its top court was endangering democracy and fundamental rights.

The resolution by the European Parliament, backed by 510 deputies against 160 with 29 abstentions, is not binding, but is a further step in a process that could end with Poland losing its voting rights in the 28-nation bloc.

It follows a formal recommendation by the European Commission on July 27 for Poland to implement within three months measures to protect the powers of the constitutional court after a series of new appointments and reforms prompted fears over the court's independence.

In its recommendation, the Commission asked Polish authorities to appoint to the constitutional court three judges that had been lawfully chosen by the previous parliament but passed over by the new government.

Since winning an outright parliamentary majority last year, the Law and Justice (PiS) party has repeatedly tried to change the court's operational rules, including changing the order in which cases are heard.

It has also scrapped the previous parliament's nominations for judges and put forward its own candidates.

Poland's President Andrzej Duda, a former member of the PiS, which now holds majority in both houses of the Polish parliament, is refusing to swear in the three judges appointed by the previous parliament, but did swear in three candidates nominated by the PiS, despite the Court's objections.

Warsaw says the changes to Poland's constitutional court are aimed at streamlining the institution and that it has a broad social mandate to carry out reforms. It accuses critics of taking sides with their political rivals.

The Commission also asked Poland to publish all verdicts of the Constitutional Tribunal, as stipulated by Polish law.

The Polish government is refusing to publish a number of the court's recent verdicts, including those ruling that recent changes to the tribunal violate the constitution.

"The paralysis of the Constitutional Tribunal and the refusal of the Polish Government to publish all its judgments endanger democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law in Poland," the European Parliament said in a statement.

Despite months of talks and pressure from the EU, as well as the United States, the European Commission's deputy head said on Tuesday the row with Poland was not resolved.

"The Polish government must now act and bring this constitutional crisis to an end," socialist European lawmaker, Birgit Sippel said in a statement after the vote on the resolution in parliament on Wednesday.

"The time for talking is over, the founding principles of the EU are not negotiable or changeable," she said.

(Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)



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