The European Commission will open a case against Poland over laws that have been criticized for contradicting the EU's fundamental principles about the rule of law.
European Union Commissioner Frans Timmermans said his executive will carry out a preliminary assessment into the new constitutional court and media legislation - the first step in a drawn-out procedure that could ultimately lead to suspending Polish voting rights in the 28-nation bloc.
Poland government spokesman Rafal Bochenek played down the decision, saying it was a standard procedure that did not influence Poland's relations with the European Commission. Mr Bochenek said Mr Timmermans has already been invited to Warsaw for talks on the Polish laws.
In December, Poland's ruling Law and Justice party, which has a full parliamentary majority, took steps to gain influence in the constitutional tribunal, which is supposed to be an independent arbiter with the power to block the government's legislation.
In addition, Poland's president signed a law last week that heads towards giving the government full control of state radio and television, a move critics also see as undermining a cornerstone of democracy.
Even before the announcement, the Polish government has criticised the EU and some of its leaders for meddling into its internal affairs.
The EU has had similar problems with Hungary, and Prime Minister Viktor Orban has already stressed his support for Poland.
So far, the EU has never had to move towards suspending the voting rights of a member state.