BRUSSELS — The European Union on Tuesday escalated its case against Poland over what it sees as democratic backsliding in the Central European nation, moving a step closer to a possible court case that could result in financial penalties for Warsaw.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, is pushing to overhaul the nation’s justice system in a way that gives it direct power over the courts, saying it seeks to create a more efficient justice system.

The European Commission, however, sees the move as an attack on the independence of the justice system and rule of law in the 28-year-old democracy, and launched the first step in a legal proceeding against Poland in July.

The Commission, which polices law in the 28-member bloc, said Tuesday that it has now taken the second of three steps in the so-called infringement procedure against Poland. It said it was giving Warsaw one month to address judicial changes which it believes violate the rule of law.

If Poland doesn’t address the recommendations, the Commission said it may take the case to the EU Court of Justice, which could impose fines.

There was no immediate response in Warsaw to Tuesday’s development, but the government of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo has repeatedly said it believes the EU has no right to interfere in its internal affairs. It also argues that it has a democratic mandate from voters to change the courts.

The EU and Poland have been in a standoff for more than a year as the nationalist-conservative party has sought to consolidate its power in ways big and small. The party has also taken control of public media, which is meant to be non-partisan, turning it into a party mouthpiece.

But with private news outlets still strong, rights groups have been most troubled by the judicial changes.

In Poland, government critics fear a total takeover of the judiciary would leave the party able to use the courts to settle scores with political opponents and even to falsify election outcomes.

So far Law and Justice has pushed through two laws on the courts that have given it control over the Constitutional Tribunal and the power to name the heads of all the ordinary courts in the country. Two other laws completing the judicial takeover were vetoed by the president in July, but the party will attempt to pass them in modified form this autumn.

Author photo
VANESSA GERA
The AP is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, as a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members, it can maintain its single-minded focus on newsgathering and its commitment to the highest standards of objective, accurate journalism.