Frans Timmermans, the First Vice-President of the European Commission, was speaking ahead of a meeting of EU ministers for European affairs in Brussels that was expected to discuss issues including Poland’s alleged breach of rule-of-law principles.
"We've made some progress, but we are not in a position to say the issue has been resolved," Timmermans said about an ongoing dispute with Warsaw over court reforms and the rule of law in Poland.
A curt "No"
Timmermans gave a curt "No" when asked if there was any chance that the European Commission would withdraw the Article 7 procedure against Poland at this stage, Poland’s PAP news agency reported.
Timmermans' statement cut short speculation that Brussels and Warsaw could reach an agreement on Monday in the rule-of law dispute following concessions offered by the Polish government over disputed judicial changes, PAP said.
Timmermans's comments may come as a surprise for those in Warsaw who were expecting a breakthrough, PAP said.
The agency cited a Eurodeputy hailing from Poland’s ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, Karol Karski, as arguing on Sunday that the dispute between the Polish government and the European Commission over the rule of law was "practically speaking, a closed chapter."
The EU ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday were expected to be presented with an update by Timmermans on talks he has conducted with Poland amid the long-standing dispute with Brussels.
The rule-of-law row
The European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation European Union, in December took the unprecedented step of triggering Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Poland, stepping up pressure on Warsaw over controversial changes to the justice system by the country’s ruling conservatives.
The move meant that the EU’s executive wanted the bloc’s member states to declare that the rule of law in Poland was under threat. That could potentially pave the way for sanctions being imposed on Poland.
But the Polish government has since moved to modify the disputed legal changes.
Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz in early May met Timmermans in Brussels to brief him on planned new amendments to disputed laws regulating the work of the country's court system, according to PAP.
Poland’s lawmakers have since approved adjustments to regulations governing assistant judges and also voted to limit a contested procedure that allows “extraordinary appeals” for reopening closed court cases.
Officials in Warsaw were hoping the modifications would prove enough for the EU executive to stop the Article 7 procedure.
Czaputowicz in late March said that Poland wanted Brussels to withdraw its Article 7 procedure against Warsaw.
Timmermans in early April visited Warsaw to hold talks with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki as well as Czaputowicz and presidential chief of staff Krzysztof Szczerski. He also met the heads of Poland's Constitutional Tribunal and Supreme Court.
Morawiecki and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker talked about the rule of law in Poland during a telephone conversation in late April.
The European Commission on May 2 proposed a new long-term budget for the EU. The plan introduces a mechanism that could financially penalise countries that are judged to have breached EU principles on the rule of law.