BRUSSELS --The European Commission has called on Poland to suspend controversial judicial reforms it said would "have a very significant negative impact" on the Polish judiciary's independence, or face unprecedented sanctions as early as next week.
“We will swiftly prepare infringement procedures for breach of EU law ... to be launched next week," The European Commission's First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said on July 19 after a meeting of the Commission in Brussels.
Since winning an election in 2015, the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party has sought to step up government influence over courts and prosecutors as well as state media.
Last week parliament, which is controlled by the PiS, adopted judicial reforms that the opposition and others see as a threat to the separation of powers.
The legislation would give the politically appointed justice minister the power to name the chief justices of Poland's common courts.
In addition, parliament would select members of the National Council of the Judiciary, whose role is to protect the independence of courts.
The PiS also tabled a separate bill in parliament that would subjugate the Supreme Court -- which supervises lower courts -- to executive power, in a move the opposition criticized as "the announcement of a coup."
Timmermans on July 19 warned that the Commission is "coming very close" to triggering article 7 of the EU treaty which could lead to Poland losing its voting right in the council.
"These laws considerably increase the systemic threats to the rule of law,” Timmermans warned.
"Collectively, they would abolish any remaining judicial independence and put the judiciary under full political control of the government,” he said.
On July 19, Polish lawmakers sent the bill on reorganizing the Supreme Court to a specialized commission.
The move came after a heated debate late on July 18 forced the deputy speaker to suspend proceedings overnight amid a protest against the draft legislation staged by thousands of people outside the Polish presidential palace.
During the debate, the opposition proposed more than 1,000 amendments to the draft, which, it says, kills judicial independence.