BRUSSELS: The European Union on Wednesday called on Poland's right-wing government to suspend controversial reforms to the country's courts, expressing "grave concern" that they could undermine judicial freedom.
During a special high-level meeting on the issue in Brussels, European Commissioners had also discussed the unprecedented option of suspending Poland's voting rights in the 28-nation bloc, a statement said.
The Polish government has faced growing protests in recent days after moving last week to overhaul the entire judicial system, a move that has also triggered the latest in a series of clashes with Brussels.
"Recent measures taken by the Polish authorities on the judicial system greatly amplify the threat to the rule of law in Poland," European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said.
A European Commission statement said it "expresses grave concern about the clear risks for the independence of the judiciary in Poland."
"The commission urges the Polish authorities to put the new laws on hold and re-engage in the ongoing rule of law dialogue with First Vice-President Timmermans in an attempt to address the serious concerns expressed," the statement added.
"If implemented in their current form, these laws would have a very significant negative impact on the independence of the judiciary and would increase the systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland."
After launching reforms of the constitutional court following its election victory in late 2015, the Polish government stepped up its bid to reform the court system.
The Polish parliament suspended debate overnight on a law that would give the justice minister influence over the supreme court after the leader of the governing party unleashed a diatribe against the opposition.
Both houses of parliament last week adopted separate legislation that would give the minister of justice the power to name the chief justices of the EU member's common courts.
In addition, parliament would choose members of the National Council of the Judiciary, whose role is to protect the independence of courts.