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New Polish government faces EU investigation

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WARSAW, Poland — The European Commission said Wednesday that it had opened a formal inquiry to determine whether Poland's new right-wing government had violated the democratic norms of the European Union.

Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, announced the decision, but tried to play down the potential confrontation it opened with the Polish government. He said that the commission would take "a very cooperative approach" and that it was willing to meet with Polish officials at any time to discuss the matter. "Our aim is not to accuse or engage in a polemic," he said.


A spokesman for Law and Justice, the new governing party in Poland, said the government would be "very happy" to welcome European officials.

Both actions have stirred protests at home and abroad.

Other changes include measures that would rein in the court's ability to overturn new laws; allow the government to directly appoint the country's top prosecutor; and pardon the head of the security services, who had been appealing a conviction for abuse of office stemming from the ruling party's previous time in power, from 2005 to 2007.

In recent days, Polish officials have criticized the European Union's plans to review their actions.

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo portrayed the inquiry as an ideological threat to national sovereignty. "It is a discussion about whether our peace and lifestyle will be preserved or destroyed," she said in a televised speech.

And in a harshly worded letter, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro warned Timmermans "to exercise more restraint in instructing and cautioning the parliament and government of a sovereign and democratic state in the future, despite ideological differences that may exist between us, with you being of a left-wing persuasion."

The commission will use a three-step process enacted in 2014 for its inquiry. In two months, investigators will begin an official assessment of whether the government violated EU rules. If the assessment concludes that Poland acted wrongly, recommendations will be offered to resolve the situation. If Poland refuses to act, the commission could impose "far-reaching sanctions" — including stripping the country of EU voting rights, something that has never happened in the bloc's history.


Separately, the European Parliament has scheduled a debate on the Polish government's actions for next week in Strasbourg, France. Szydlo, who plans to attend that gathering, has said she will not back down.

"Do not expect us to regard our partnership with the EU as some special privilege," Szydlo told Poland's parliament on Wednesday. "Do not expect me to go to Brussels and be docile. Do not expect us to be on our knees."