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The European Commission has launched a probe into policy changes in Poland that may clash with EU law. It is the first time such a move has been initiated by the EU against a member state.
Speaking after a lengthy meeting of the EU executive on Wednesday, European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said: "today we have decided that the (European) Commission will carry out a preliminary assessment on this matter under the rule of law framework."
The unprecedented move is in response to new policies introduced by the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party upon its election in October. These include measures implemented last week that would give the government more control over state news organizations. Changes to the nomination process for Poland's judicial system raised eyebrows in Brussels as well.
The rule of law investigation could lead to the application of Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union, which would see Poland's voting rights within the bloc suspended.
This is seen as unlikely, however, and a review process and recommendations must first be completed by the EU.
The Polish government lashed out at the European Commission on Tuesday, accusing the EC of putting undue pressure on the right-wing government over the issue and interfering with Poland's right to govern itself as its elected officials see fit.
Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said she will join President Andrzej Duda, a close ally, at a January 18 debate on the issue in the European Parliament.
"It's clear to me that the prime minister represents the country any time Poland's reputation needs protection," she told reporters in Warsaw earlier this week.
Poland has also faced some backlash from its citizens over the new laws.
mz/rc (dpa, AFP, AP)