The Latest: Polish president says critics in EU are 'lying'

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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Latest on EU action against Poland (all times local):

10:00 p.m.

Poland's President Andrzej Duda has accused European Union leaders of "lying" by saying judicial changes in Poland threaten the rule of law and democratic standards.

Duda gave an interview to a private TV station on Wednesday, hours after the EU's executive commission launched a procedure to censure Poland.

Duda says there is a lot of "hypocrisy" in the EU's decision. He argued that the Polish government was inspired to overhaul the laws for appointing judges and other aspects of the judicial system by reviewing regulations in many EU countries and the United States.

The president insisted that the changes to the Supreme Court and a top judicial body that he signed into law Wednesday are constitutional and strengthen Poland's democracy.

With emotion in his voice, Duda said: "Many representative of European institutions are simply saying untruths about Poland. They are lying."


6:45 p.m.

Hungary's governing party says possible sanctions by the European Union against Poland are punishment for the anti-migration stand of Poland and other countries like Hungary.

Fidesz spokesman Balazs Hidveghi says that the party "rejects the unprecedented political pressure exercised by Brussels" and will defend Poland, which is facing EU censure because of its disputed judicial reforms.

Hungary and Poland are among the EU members in Eastern Europe facing legal challenges from the EU for refusing to temporarily take in asylum seekers as part of an EU relocation plan.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said that the large-scale influx of mainly Muslim migrants threatens European Christian culture and lifestyle.

Orban claims that Brussels is implementing a "plan" hatched by Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist George Soros to flood Europe with migrants, accusations strongly denied by Soros.


6:30 p.m.

Poland's president has made a passionate defense of two new laws on the judiciary that he says he has decided to sign despite the European Union's warning that they could lead to sanctions.

The European Commission, the guardian of EU law, said earlier Wednesday it was triggering the so-called Article 7 procedure against Poland because the two laws, combined with several others passed in the past two years, erode the separation of powers, a basic democratic principle.

The changes give the right-wing ruling party greater powers over the Supreme Court and a body that nominates judges.

President Andrzej Duda said the laws deepen democracy by making the courts and judges more accountable to regular citizens, calling them "unusually democratic."

He made no mention of the procedure that the EU triggered only hours earlier.


5:50 p.m.

Poland's president says he has decided to sign two laws that will put courts under more political control even though they are part of a review a concerned European Union is conducting.

President Andrzej Duda announced his approval for the laws on Wednesday, just hours after the EU's executive body triggered proceedings over Warsaw's overhaul of the justice system, of which the pending legislation was part.

The EU decision could lead to unprecedented sanctions on Poland as Brussels struggles to keep the recalcitrant member state on a democratic path.

Defying the warning, Duda says he thinks the bills that reached his desk are much improved from earlier drafts the EU had criticized.


5 p.m.

Poland's prime minister says the country is "devoted to the rule of law" after the European Union challenged that notion by triggering a procedure that could see Poland lose its EU voting rights.

Mateusz Morawiecki tweeted in reaction to the EU's move over Poland's overhaul of the justice system.

Morawiecki said in English: "Poland is as devoted to the rule of law as the rest of the EU. Current judiciary reform is deeply needed."

He added that "the dialogue between the (European) Commission and Warsaw needs to be both open and honest. I believe that Poland's sovereignty and the idea of United Europe can be reconciled."

Morawiecki will meet European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Jan. 9.


4:30 p.m.

Romania's president says the European Union, after triggering proceedings against Poland for its justice system overhaul, may do so against Romania as well due to its own legal system changes that have sparked widespread protests.

President Klaus Iohannis says Wednesday there was "an obvious risk" that the EU could activate article 7 against Romania," if current proposals become law.

He spoke after the EU's executive arm initiated proceedings against Poland over it contentious overhaul of its justice system, which could lead to unprecedented sanctions but will likely end as only a warning.

Romania's Parliament recently voted to ban public statements about investigations and trials and also to allow suspects to be present when witnesses are giving testimony. Critics say this could intimidate witnesses.

Lawmakers also voted to limit or ban video or audio recordings as evidence in trials. Iohannis can return the laws to Parliament.

Thousands of Romanians and judges have protested the proposals.


4:20 p.m.

A European Union official says the bloc's decision to trigger proceedings against Poland that could lead to unprecedented sanctions stems from what he says are the Polish government's policies that put "authorities above the law."

European Council President Donald Tusk says that the conservative government has "practically liquidated judicial independence in Poland."

For Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, the worst and "sad" thing for Poland has already taken place. He said it was the ruling Law and Justice party's policy that "in a conscious way placed Poland across and maybe even outside" the EU.

A spokeswoman for Poland's ruling party has called the EU's decision "political," and says it has nothing to do with the facts about the steps that Poland is taking.


3:05 p.m.

Hungary's deputy prime minister says the EU decision to launch proceedings against Poland is "unprecedented and astounding."

Zsolt Semjen, also head of Hungary's Christian Democrat party, said the EU's decision Wednesday "seriously damages Poland's sovereignty."

Semjen said Hungary would oppose the EU Commission's move "at every forum" and defend Poland from the "unjust political procedure."

Hungarian state news wire MTI reports that Semjen also reiterated Prime Minister Viktor Orban's vow to veto any EU efforts to sanction Poland because of its disputed reforms of the judiciary.

Semjen says it is "unacceptable that Brussels is putting pressure on sovereign member states and arbitrarily punishing democratically elected governments."

Over the past several years, Orban's government has also been a target of EU criticism because of a perceived weakening of democratic checks and balances.


2:40 p.m.

A spokeswoman for Poland's ruling party has called the European Union's decision to launch a censure procedure against Poland "political," and says it has nothing to do with the facts about the steps that Poland is taking.

Beata Mazurek of the ruling Law and Justice party insisted that the changes Poland is making to its justice system, and which EU leaders find undemocratic, are based on the situation in other EU member states.

She insisted that the EU Commission is deaf to such arguments and wants to sanction Poland for political reasons, including for its refusal to accept migrants.

Mazurek argued the procedure will hit Poles but will not affect the ruling party's policies of reorganizing the judiciary and other walks of life.

She also argued that no punitive sanctions can be triggered against Poland because they would need unanimity, which will not be achieved because of Hungary's opposition to them.


1:30 p.m.

Poland's justice minister says the European Union member will continue its overhaul of the justice system despite an unprecedented censure from EU leaders.

Zbigniew Ziobro, who co-authored the controversial reorganization of the justice system and whose powers are strengthened by it, said he received news that the EU had launched the procedure with "calm."

He said Poland needs to continue with it, and that Poland "will only be a significant EU member when it has a well-functioning justice system."

He insisted its provisions were drawn from justice systems of western EU members.


1:25 p.m.

The European Union's executive has triggered proceedings against Poland that could lead to sanctions over its recent decisions involving the judiciary.

The triggering of Article 7 was widely expected and EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans said that "we are doing this for Poland, for Polish citizens" so they can rely on a fully independent judiciary in their nation, which is a key underpinning of EU principles.

Timmermans said that despite the measure indicating that "the rule of law is under threat" he remained open to dialogue with Warsaw to remedy this abuse "of naked political power."

Polish justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro, however, insisted that despite the EU measure, Poland will continue to 'reform' its justice system.


1 p.m.

Poland's state news agency PAP says the European Commission, the guardian of European Union law, has taken an unprecedented step toward possibly imposing sanctions on Poland over judicial laws seen as violating Europe's basic democratic values.

Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro seemed to confirm the step on Wednesday, saying he received the decision with "calm" and insisting that Poland is a law-abiding country.

According to PAP, which did not identify its source, the Commission triggered what is formally known as Article 7, a procedure that could eventually lead to Poland losing its voting rights in the bloc.

Sometimes called the "nuclear option," Article 7 has never been triggered against a member state before. The step is seen as a sign of serious concern about the new judicial laws.

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