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Hungary blasts EU as 'very irresponsible' over its handling of migration

Key Points
  • The European Union (EU) has been "very unbalanced and very irresponsible" in its handling of the continent's migration crisis, Hungary's foreign minister told CNBC on Monday.
  • Peter Szijjarto said Hungary "should be able to control and protect its own borders."
Hungary wants a strong EU, but in a totally different way to Brussels, foreign minister says

The European Union (EU) has been "very unbalanced and very irresponsible" in its handling of the continent's migration crisis, Hungary's foreign minister told CNBC on Monday.

Peter Szijjarto said Hungary "should be able to control and protect its own borders."

Budapest's relations with the EU have been strained in recent years, with the bloc's response to the continent's influx of migrants in 2015 being the main source of division.

"The approach of the EU is very unbalanced and very irresponsible," Szijjarto said. "We Hungarians do know the phenomenon of illegal migration, not from reports but from reality. We had around 400,000 illegal migrants marching through the country, violating our regulations and all our standards and threatening the Hungarian people."

Szijjarto said the EU "does not consider the security aspect of migration," adding that there was a correlation "between the threat of terror here in Europe and the phenomenon of illegal migration."

"No one should doubt that a huge and massive influx of illegal migrants opens up the opportunity for terrorist organizations to send their fighters, their activists, their terrorists in a much simpler way," he said.

Number crunching

Hungary's oppositional and controversial stance towards Brussels when it comes to migration is nothing new. Neither is the country alone in its collision with other EU states over immigration.

Other eastern European countries, including Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania, have also rejected the EU's proposed migrant quotas — that each of the 28 member states should take a "share" of migrants entering Europe.

In September 2017, the European Court of Justice rejected Hungary and Slovakia's challenge to the quotas, but Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has vowed to fight on.

Mehmet Yilmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

At the height of Europe's migration crisis in 2015, hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants — most from the Middle East and Africa — arrived at the continent by land and sea.

Tens of thousands of men, women and children traveled northwards through Europe, with countries like Hungary part of the migration route, before attempts were made to divert them. Many migrants were trying to reach northern European countries like Germany.

Hungary took a more hostile attitude towards migrants than other western European states, with the country erecting razor wire fences along its borders with Serbia and Croatia.

In March 2017, the Hungarian parliament approved the automatic detention of all asylum seekers in container camps at the country's borders. Prime Minister Orban said then that the country was "under siege."

Although 400,000 migrants did travel through Hungary in 2015, the number of people applying for asylum in the country was small, perhaps in part because of its less-than-welcoming attitude. The latest data from Eurostat shows that, in the third quarter of 2017, Hungary had 745 asylum applications, while Germany had 51,970 applications.

The Orban factor

Orban's nationalist-conservative government has not won many friends in Brussels with this hardline approach to immigration. The 54-year old has been called a "dictator" by various members of the European community since coming to power in 2010; he served a previous term between 1998 and 2002. He's running for a third consecutive term with an election coming in April.

The accusation of "dictator"-like behavior has followed Orban's increasingly restrictive attitude towards the press and changes to the country's judicial system that some have said are damaging Hungary's independence.

When Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn called Orban a "dictator" for passing laws that could obstruct organizations helping asylum seekers from operating in Hungary, Szijjarto hit back by calling his counterpart an "idiot" who wanted to "flood Hungary with migrants." He defended Orban, saying he was "protecting Hungary's security."

Aside from immigration, Hungary has clashed with the EU over sovereignty and the idea of a "stronger EU." Szijjarto said that while Budapest was interested in having a stronger EU, it was not at any cost.

"We have a debate with Brussels about how we get to a phenomenon of having a stronger EU. In Brussels, there is the approach of something like a 'United States of Europe' that should be established, but our approach is totally different.

"It's a more (pro) sovereign approach, saying that the EU can only be strong if the member states are strong. We are not alone on our side and if you look at the position of many central and eastern European countries, you will see many similarities."