Brussels has been "naive in the past" over rule of law breaches, a senior member of the European Commission (EC) has told Euronews.
Vera Jourova was speaking as the EU published its first-ever report on democratic values in the 27-country bloc.
"We simply have to admit to ourselves that we were naive in the past," said Jourova, vice president for values and transparency, referring to breaches of rule of law.
She went on to explain that rule of law and EU values had been taken for granted.
"It's quite clear that we have to increase the pressure to show these are the principles of the club," Jourova told Euronews.
Poland and Hungary are among the countries frequently clashing with Brussels over issues regarding rule of law.
The report was presented a day after Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban called on Jourova to resign.
That was in relation to an interview Jourova gave to German magazine Der Spiegel in which she made comments that translate as: "Mr Orbán says often that he builds an illiberal democracy. I would say he builds a sick democracy."
Addressing the calls for her to resign, Jourova, a former government minister in the Czech Republic, told Euronews: "What I said, I said."
She added she'd repeated "in different words" that she had "serious concerns about the state of play in Hungary".
'A new chapter'
The report said democratic standards are facing “important challenges” in some European Union countries, particularly in Hungary and Poland, where the judicial systems are under threat.
The European Commission depicted a bleak situation in the two countries. Its wide-ranging audit found that prosecution of high-level corruption in Hungary “remains very limited,” and deemed Poland deficient in the four main areas reviewed: national justice systems, anti-corruption frameworks, media freedom and checks and balances.
“It is relevant to have an overview of these issues and see the links between them. Not least because deficiencies often merge into an undrinkable cocktail," Jourova told journalists.
The report, published a day before the leaders of the EU’s 27 nations meet in Brussels for a two-day summit, could have repercussions for discussions on the bloc’s long-term budget.
While EU leaders have agreed in principle on a €1.8 trillion economic recovery package for the 2021-2027 budget period, they have yet to find common ground on how to distribute the money because many countries insist that allocations should be linked to respecting the EU's rule of law standards.
Poland and Hungary, which believe they are being unfairly targeted, are opposed to the idea. The EU has accused the two countries of violating rule-of-law standards for years and is pursuing sanction procedures against them.
Hungary immediately dismissed the report as irrelevant and biased.
“The Commission’s Rule of Law Report is not only fallacious but absurd,” the Hungarian government said in a statement. “The concept and methodology of the Commission’s Rule of Law Report are unfit for purpose, its sources are unbalanced and its content is unfounded.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki made no reference to the report while presenting his new cabinet on Wednesday, while Poland's liberal opposition, the Civic Coalition, stressed that the report was critical of the right-wing government, but not of the country itself.
“It is the current ruling team that is rated so low in the report and it’s Law and Justice (party) that is responsible for all the problems that the European Commission is referring to now," said Civic Coalition lawmaker Kamila Gasiuk-Pichowicz.
The EU report also called out Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia and Spain for threats against journalists, and threats, attacks and smear campaigns against journalists were also reported in Hungary. Bulgaria also was cited for a lack of judicial independence and an inability to tackle corruption cases properly.