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EU's Juncker, Polish PM Confer Amid Focus on Rights, Media

Protesters wave Polish and European Union flags during an anti-government demonstration in Warsaw, Poland, Dec. 19, 2015.

The European Commission president and Polish prime minister held a lengthy phone conversation Tuesday evening ahead of an EU executive meeting that will examine concerns about the rule of law in Poland under its new government, European Union officials said.

In an indication that Warsaw is stepping up contacts with Brussels, which has raised concerns about appointments to Poland's constitutional court and its new media law, Jean-Claude Juncker spoke with Premier Beata Szydlo for 45 minutes.

Critics accuse Polish nationalist leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski of rolling back judicial independence and freedoms of speech. Supporters of his Law and Justice party say the government is entitled to uphold Catholic and national values and show its independence from Brussels.

On Wednesday, the commissioners in charge of fundamental rights, justice and media — Frans Timmermans, Vera Jourova and Gunther Oettinger — will report to the 28-member commission on Poland's actions before it decides how to proceed.

A new legal instrument known as the "rule of law framework," created by the EU in 2014 after it was widely accused of failing to defend European liberal values in Hungary, gives Brussels the "nuclear option" of suspending EU voting rights and access to EU funds in case of a "systemic threat" to the rule of law.