Sanctions should be imposed on EU countries that don’t observe democracy and the rule of law, Guy Verhofstadt said on Monday, but he insisted there was no east-west divide within the bloc.
The European Commission’s response to rising authoritarian rule in Hungary, Poland and Romania was “not bad, but … not sufficient,” he said.
Verhofstadt, one of the highest-profile candidates for the EU’s top job after next month’s elections, was answering questions from Euronews viewers on Raw Politics.
He said Hungary’s Viktor Orban has “invented the idea of an illiberal democracy, which is a complete contradiction in terms.”
However, he said: "There is not an east-west divide. There is a divide in the brain of the Orbans of this world. Of Dragnea in Romania.”
He ridiculed the Commission’s current approach of writing letters of reproach.
"I have had enough of writing letters,” he said. “I wrote a lot of letters in these cases without any result. It’s not enough.
“What we need is a real rule of law and a democracy pact in Europe, like we have a stability pact for the economy. Then if a country doesn't fulfil the conditions, like in Romania and Hungary and Poland, then we take sanctions. They can be financial sanctions.”
He also said he was “not anti-Russia” but opposed Vladimir Putin’s style of rule.
“I am very much in favour of Russia and cooperation with the EU. The real future for them and us is a big economic area going from the Atlantic Ocean to Vladivostok. The problem is Putin and the Kremlin who is trying to kill democracy and freedom of speech in Russia."