EU's von der Leyen delivers veiled warning to Italy's right wing

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BRUSSELS - European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen warned Italy of consequences should it veer away from democratic principles, issuing a barely veiled threat ahead of Sunday's election which a rightist bloc led by Giorgia Meloni is strongly expected to win.

"My approach is that whatever democratic government is willing to work with us, we're working together," she said in response to a question at Princeton University in the United States on Thursday.

"If things go in a difficult direction, I've spoken about Hungary and Poland, we have tools," she added.

Von der Leyen apparently was referring to Sunday's recommendation by the European Commission to suspend some 7.5 billion euros in funding for Hungary over corruption, the first such case in the 27-nation bloc under a new sanction meant to better protect the rule of law.

The EU introduced the financial sanction two years ago in response to what it says amounts to the undermining of democracy in Poland and Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban subdued courts, media, NGOs and academia, as well as restricting the rights of migrants, gay people and women during more than a decade in power.

(Reporting by Marine Strauss and Sabine Siebold; editing by Jason Neely)

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