European Union (EU) lawmakers have launched action against Poland over concerns the government has compromised the independence of the judiciary and risks breaching fundamental values.
In a resolution adopted by 438 to 152, with 71 abstentions, the lawmakers triggered the first stage of a so-called rule-of-law procedure against the Polish government.
The procedure could lead to the suspensions of Poland's EU voting rights.
The assembly's Civil Liberties Committee must now draw up a legal proposal to formally request that the mechanism - known as article seven - be activated due to a "clear risk of a serious breach" of EU values.
The EU's executive, the Commission, has already launched a procedure of its own against the right-wing government in Warsaw amid concerns new laws in Poland undermine judicial independence and the rule of law.
The vote came after a heated debate that exposed bitter feelings between European officials trying to keep Poland on a democratic course and conservative Polish officials who insist the ruling party has a democratic mandate to change its own court system, and that Brussels has no right to interfere in the affairs of sovereign nations.
Ryszard Legutko, a member of Poland's ruling party, accused the EU of waging an illegal "crusade against Poland".
He also accused the German media, which been critical of Poland's direction, of holding an "anti-Polish orgy".
In turn, others sharply criticised Poland's direction, with the parliament's liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt saying the Polish government "has lost its senses".
Gianni Pittella, leader of an alliance of Socialists and Democrats, accused Warsaw of showing "scorn for liberal democracy".
Several also criticised a march of 60,000 people that was organised by extremist far-right groups and included racist banners and slogans on Poland's Independence Day in Warsaw on Saturday.
Poland's president sharply condemned the expressions of extremism, but many in the Polish government have praised the event as a celebration of Polish patriots.
Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, said some of "most terrible parts of European history" were "seen on the streets of Warsaw" on the weekend.
The parliament's resolution called on Warsaw to strongly condemn what it called a "xenophobic and fascist march".