By Foo Yun Chee
STRASBOURG (Reuters) - The European Parliament said on Wednesday that an "effective paralysis" of Poland's top constitutional court posed a threat to democracy in the biggest eastern EU state, joining critics of the eurosceptic government in Warsaw.
Since coming to power late last year, the Law and Justice (PiS) party has enacted a law increasing the number of judges required to make rulings on the Constitutional Tribunal and changing the order in which cases are heard.
Critics say the changes have made it difficult for judges to review new legislation, let alone challenge it. The court itself has struck them down as unconstitutional. The government has refused to recognize that ruling, effectively putting it in legal limbo.
European Parliament lawmakers adopted a resolution on Wednesday, agreeing they were "seriously concerned that the effective paralysis of the Constitutional Tribunal in Poland poses a danger to democracy, human rights and the rule of law".
The non-binding resolution passed with 513 votes for, 142 against and 30 abstentions.
The vote follows the European Union's executive launching a mechanism to establish whether the rule of law is under a systemic threat in Poland. It is the first time the mechanism has been used since it was set up.
Warsaw blamed members of the main opposition parties in Poland for lobbying for the vote in the European Parliament.
"Perhaps for the first time we're dealing with a situation when because of (Polish) opposition politicians' denunciations the European Parliament has passed a legal act aimed against Poles, our nation," the Polish government's spokesman, Rafal Bochenek, told state news agency PAP.
The European Parliament urged Poland to follow through on the top court's ruling and called on the EU's executive European Commission to advance its rule of law procedure should Warsaw not do that.
The ultimate sanction, though unlikely, would be to strip Poland of its voting rights in the EU.
(Additional reporting by Wiktor Szary in Warsaw; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Alison Williams)