In an unprecedented move, the European Commission opened the way for sanctions against Poland and even the eventual suspension of EU voting rights in response to laws it said had eroded the independence of the country's courts.
"Judicial reforms in Poland mean that the country's judiciary is now under the political control of the ruling majority," the European Commission said in a news release, announcing the so-called Article 7 procedure. "In the absence of judicial independence, serious questions are raised about the effective application of EU law, from the protection of investments to the mutual recognition of decisions in areas as diverse as child custody disputes or the execution of European Arrest Warrants."
The decision came after the Polish Senate approved legislation giving the executive greater control over the Supreme Court as well as the body which appoints judges. Poland has passed 13 laws over the past two years affecting the entire structure of the justice system, the commission said.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and First Vice-President Frans Timmermans will meet Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo in Brussels in January.
"We continue to stand ready for such a dialogue," Timmermans said in a statement.
The commission now needs a two-thirds majority of the council members to vote in favor of the decision for the Article 7 process to be initiated. Timmermans said that the council had shown "broad support for the commission in May and September [meetings] ... but we can only wait and see."