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Dec 8, 4:51 PM EST

The Latest: EU's Tusk sees better ties with new Polish PM

AP Photo
AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- The Latest on the political situation in Poland (all times local):

10:45 p.m.

Top European Union official Donald Tusk says that its liberal economic approach and pro-Western attitude might suggest that Poland's ruling party wants to improve its tarnished relations with the rest of the EU.

Tusk was speaking on Polish TVN24 on Friday, a day after the ruling party announced it was appointing Finance Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to be the new prime minister, replacing Beata Szydlo. Among the reasons for the change was the desire to improve Poland's image abroad, according to some party members.

Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, said Morawiecki's record so far could mean that "an intention to improve relations is lurking in the background."

He said he was open to cooperation was expecting Morawiecki, a former international banker, at an EU summit in Brussels next week.

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10:10 p.m.

Poland's prime minister-designate, Mateusz Morawiecki, says he dreams of Europe becoming "re-Christianized" and is defending the migration policies of his ruling party which have caused tensions with the European Union.

Morawiecki gave his first interview since being designated prime minister Friday to the Catholic TV Trwam station, describing his dream of seeing an increasingly secular Europe return to its Christian roots.

The 49-year-old Catholic father of four said that, "unfortunately, in many places carols are not sung, churches are empty and are converted into museums," calling this a great source of sadness to him.

He also said that Poland has the right to decide whether to accept refugees or not. The comment indicates he will stick to his ruling party's policy of refusing to accept refugees in an EU resettlement program.

He was chosen Thursday by the conservative ruling Law and Justice party to succeed Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and is to be approved by parliament next week.

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5:50 p.m.

A lawmaker with Poland's ruling party says much-criticized legislation passed by the lower house of parliament will put the courts at the service of regular citizens.

Two bills - one that would change the functioning of the nation's Supreme Court, another revising the process for naming the National Council of the Judiciary - won overwhelming approval on Friday.

The populist Law and Justice party argued the amendments are needed to make the courts more efficient and more accountable to the public.

Parliament member Wojciech Skurkiewicz told The Associated Press: "The judges are to serve the people, not humiliate them, as the party believes has been the case."

He says judges "will now be equal to ordinary people, they cannot be above them."

Opposition lawmakers and some European institutions are condemning the legislation as a threat to judicial independence.

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4:50 p.m.

Europe's human rights commissioner says he "greatly" regrets the passage in Poland of bills that would give the ruling party greater control of the Supreme Court and a key judicial body.

Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner said the legislation approved by the lower house of the Polish parliament would "further undermine the independence of the judiciary" and "erode the separation of powers."

During its two years of leading Poland's government, the conservative Law and Justice party previously asserted itself in the running of the country's lower-level courts and a key constitutional court.

The actions have drawn condemnation from European Union countries.

The bills adopted Friday on the Supreme Court and the National Council of the Judiciary are expected to be approved by the Senate, where the ruling party has a majority. President Andrzej Duda, who co-authored them, has signaled he would enact them.

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4:20 p.m.

Poland's president has formally designated Finance Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, a former international banker, to be the country's next prime minister.

President Andrzej Duda told Morawiecki during a ceremony at the presidential palace on Friday that he would strive to work cooperatively with him.

Duda also thanked the outgoing prime minister, Beata Szydlo, for her two years of leading Poland's current conservative government.

Morawiecki was chosen by the ruling Law and Justice party to succeed Szydlo on Thursday evening. His appointment still needs parliamentary approval, largely a formality given the ruling party's majority.

The government shake-up comes as Polish lawmakers voted Friday to complete an overhaul of the justice system, defying warnings from elsewhere in Europe that the changes sought by Law and Justice are un-democratic.

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3:20 p.m.

Polish lawmakers have overwhelmingly approved a bill changing the appointment process for the judicial panel that nominates judges, part of a broader overhaul of the country's justice system.

The lower house of parliament voted 237-166, with 22 abstentions on Friday to pass the bill on appointments to the National Council of the Judiciary as opposition lawmakers shouted "dictatorship!"

The legislation would give lawmakers the right to choose 15 out of the council's 25 judges. The judicial body's members currently all are selected by fellow judges.

Its passage came shortly after a companion bill changing the rules governing the Supreme Court sailed through.

The ruling Law and Justice party says the laws will make the courts more efficient and responsive to the needs of ordinary Poles.

Critics see a power grab since the laws would give the ruling party greater power over the courts.

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This version has been corrected to show the vote tally was 237-166, not 437-166.

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2:45 p.m.

An aide says Polish President Andrzej Duda believes a just-passed bill regulating how the Supreme Court works is good for the country's justice system.

The comment Duda aide Pawel Mucha made to Poland's parliament on Friday indicates Duda will sign the bill into law.

Mucha said before the lawmakers approved the legislation that Duda believes "Poland's justice system needs this bill" and sees it as "a pro-society project

Duda vetoed an earlier version during the summer. The updated one passed by the lower house of parliament Friday gives the president greater power over the naming of judges to the high court.

Poland's parliament is also planning to vote Friday on a bill revising the appointment process for the National Council of the Judiciary, the body that nominates judges.

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2:10 p.m.

Poland's parliament has passed a bill that will change how the country's Supreme Court functions, a step critics see as an erosion of judicial independence under the populist Law and Justice party.

Lawmakers voted 239-171, with 24 abstentions, to pass the law on the Supreme Court, whose duties include confirming election results.

The lower house of parliament is set to vote later Friday on a separate bill that would change how judges are nominated.

The Venice Commission, a body of legal experts with Europe's Council of Europe, a top human rights body, says the changes together constitute a "grave threat" to Poland's judicial system.

The bills must also be approved by the Senate, where the ruling Law and Justice party has a comfortable majority, and then be signed by President Andrzej Duda. The president's office has indicated he will enact them into law.

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1:35 p.m.

Europe's leading human rights body says that legal changes being put to a vote in the Polish parliament constitute a "grave threat" to the judiciary.

The Venice Commission, a group of legal experts within the Council of Europe, made the assessment as Polish lawmakers prepared to vote Friday on two bills that would reshape the judicial branch, including how judges are named.

In a statement, the commission said the two laws, together with previous changes to the courts made by the ruling Law and Justice party, put the independence of Poland's the judiciary "at serious risk."

The commission gave a detailed critique of bills being put to a final vote in parliament and expected to pass.

It cited a provision that would lower the mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court judges, forcing the immediate resignation of dozens of the court's justices unless they receive individual exemptions.

The commission said this "jeopardizes the independence of the judiciary as a whole."

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1:25 p.m.

Poland's lawmakers have started debating two bills that would increase the ruling party's control over the judiciary and that critics say would make judges and courts vulnerable to political influence.

The populist Law and Justice party has the majority needed to pass the bills on Friday. The legislation would change the functioning of the nation's Supreme Court and the process for naming the National Council of the Judiciary, the body that nominates judges.

Opposition lawmakers say the changes coming to a vote in the lower house of parliament represent a power grab. Opponents called it an "attack" on the judiciary.

Law and Justice says it has a democratic mandate to reform the judicial system, which it describes as deeply corrupt and inefficient.

The expected vote come a day after Law and Justice said Poland's finance minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, will replace Prime Minister Beata Szydlo.

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10:25 a.m.

Poland's outgoing prime minister says she will continue to fight for the government's conservative program in another position, speaking a day after the ruling party said Finance Minister Mateusz Morawiecki would replace her.

Beata Szydlo addressed lawmakers Friday following the political shake-up announced by Law and Justice on Thursday evening. One official suggested she would be deputy prime minister.

Friday is expected to be another eventful day in Warsaw, with lawmakers to vote on controversial legislation that would put the Supreme Court and a judicial body under the party's control.

Poland's opposition and the European Union believe the laws will erode the independence of the judiciary. Some critics see the change of prime minister as an attempt to distract people from the passage of those laws.

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This story corrects that the government's policy is to not accept refugees.

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