By VANESSA GERA and GEIR MOULSON
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union's executive commission will likely decide next week to trigger an unprecedented procedure against Poland that could move the country closer to losing its voting rights in the EU, a top official said Friday.
The step has been discussed in reaction to new Polish bills overhauling the judicial system which the EU sees as a violation of fundamental European values.
EU budget commissioner Guenther Oettinger told Germany's Deutschlandfunk radio Friday: "Whether we will take this step, my colleagues and I will have to decide next Wednesday."
But "a lot speaks" for it happening, in what would be a first for the bloc, he added. "I suspect that we will be prepared on Wednesday to initiate this step."
Poland's new Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki tried to persuade leaders at an EU summit in Brussels ending Friday that the bills do not violate democratic values.
The procedure being considered includes two steps. A first step involves warning a member state that it is in breach of fundamental values. It requires a qualified majority by member states and could likely pass.
A second step — stripping a state of its voting rights in the European Council — could theoretically follow, but it requires unanimity and the illiberal Hungarian government has vowed to block punitive action against Poland.
Polish lawmakers passed two new laws last week regulating the Supreme Court and the National Council of the Judiciary, a body that appoints judges, giving the ruling party control over both institutions. Critics believe the laws, together with laws previously passed, destroy the independence of the judicial branch by putting it under political control of the ruling party.
The bills still await the approval of the Senate, a step that could come Friday, followed by that of the president.
Opponents held protests Thursday evening in some Polish cities in last-ditch hopes of blocking them, though that prospect seemed unlikely.
Ska Keller, president of the Greens alliance in the European Parliament, said triggering the procedure against Poland would be the right decision.
"We were patient far too long with the Polish government dismantling the juridical system in the country," Keller said. "It is the duty of the European Commission to preserve democracy and rule of law in the member states."
Moulson reported from Berlin.