Brussels has confirmed a link between rule of law concerns and delays in approving COVID recovery funding for Poland and Hungary.
MEPs have been pushing the European Commission (EC) to do more to ensure the two countries respect key EU values.
Budapest has been criticised for a lack of press freedom and Warsaw over reforms that allegedly threaten the independence of judges.
One of the ways MEPs want the EC to tackle the problem is to make COVID recovery money conditional on European Union countries respecting EU values. While that hasn't officially been sanctioned, Hungary is still waiting for Brussels to approve €7.2 billion in grants. Poland is also waiting for the green light for €23.9 billion in EU grants and €12.1 billion in loans.
This week, after months of stalling, the European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, confirmed the connection between COVID funds and respect for EU values.
"There is a link between the [recovery] plans and the country-specific recommendations in the European semester," he said.
"And if you look at the country-specific recommendations, you will see that, with Poland, we have put some remarks on the independence of the justice system.
"About Hungary, there are remarks about the way to organise the fight against corruption and so it's very important now to clarify the situation and to see if there are positive evolutions in both cases, as we discussed with all the other member states. So, it will be possible for the Commission to put some conditions to adopt the different plans."
Orban is 'having his cake and eating it'
Both Budapest and Warsaw have denounced the holdup of funds, claiming it was ideologically motivated.
But Timothy Garton Ash, a professor of European Studies at the University of Oxford, told Euronews this isn't the case and that the EU must do more.
"Viktor Orban is having his cake and eating it," he said. "He is winning elections by saying 'Stop Brussels campaigning against the European Union', but taking billions of European taxpayers' money. Therefore, the key to an effective response is to establish a linkage between the Europe of values and the Europe of money. And that's what the European Union so far failed to do."