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Poland's Prime Minister Beata Szydlo meets with Frans Timmermans, deputy head of the European Commission at the Prime Minister Chancellery in Warsaw, Poland May 24, 2016. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel


By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union's executive on Wednesday adopted a formal stance critical of the rule of law in Poland, First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said, in a growing standoff between Brussels and the bloc's largest eastern member.

Brussels and Warsaw have been holding a series of high-level talks aimed at soothing a dispute between the Commission and the eurosceptic, nationalist-minded government in Poland led by the Law and Justice (PiS) party.

"The Commission does not intend to involve itself in a political debate in Poland. Political issues in Poland are the business of politicians in Poland. Not the European Commission," Timmermans said. "Our business is preserving the rule of law."

Timmermans said no solutions had so far been found in key areas of concern raised by Brussels. Warsaw now has two weeks to respond before any further decisions were taken by Brussels.

The maximum, though unlikely, sanction would be to strip Poland of its voting rights in the EU. The Commission launched its investigation after PiS won national elections by a wide margin last year and then made changes to the composition of Poland's top constitutional court.

New laws increased the number of constitutional court judges required to make rulings and changed the order in which cases are heard. Warsaw also rejected new judges appointed by the previous government.

While the text of the Commission's position will not be made public yet, Brussels worries that the changes have undermined the top court's ability to review whether any new legislation is in line with the country's constitution.

The case is souring ties between Brussels and Warsaw, which has also refused to take in any refugees to ease the burden on other EU states most affected by the arrival of some 1.3 million people in the bloc last year.

Some EU states threaten to use an imminent review of the bloc's multi-year budget to take some development funds away from Poland as punishment.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Richard Balmforth)


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