EU Commission frontrunner backs slashing EU funding for rule of law breaches

Manfred Weber is the centre-right European People's Party candidate and frontrunner to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission (AFP Photo/LOUISA GOULIAMAKI)

Vilnius (AFP) - European Commission presidential candidate Manfred Weber is in favour of cutting funds to member states that fail to meet EU standards on the rule of law, he said in an interview published Friday.

The European Parliament had in January adopted a draft law to that effect, seen as a new tool to fight threats to the independence of the courts and corruption in countries like Hungary, Poland and Romania.

"I agree with the idea to link the penalties in such procedures to European funds," Weber told the Baltic News Service while on a visit to Lithuania.

"I propose to upgrade the rule of law mechanism," said the leading centre-right candidate in next month's European Parliament elections.

The German politician added that current rules "could not prevent recent developments in Poland, Hungary or Romania," eastern European states repeatedly criticised by Brussels for shortcomings.

He dismissed the suggestion that such sanctions could ramp up euroscepticism, saying that "a lot of people in Poland, Romania and elsewhere... demand their governments to protect their basic freedoms and democratic institutions."

Weber is the centre-right European People's Party candidate and frontrunner to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission.

In a wide-ranging interview, Weber hinted at an EU accession "perspective" for Ukraine but said he "will stop the enlargement talks" with Turkey if elected.

"For Ukraine there is still a long way to go, membership is not feasible now, everybody knows this. But there must be a European perspective," he said.

Weber also said that the EU must be ready to ramp up sanctions against Russia if needed, saying the bloc has "to assess the impact" of the Kremlin's recent decision to grant Russian passports to Ukrainians living in eastern areas controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.