Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban rejected a new migration plan by the European Union’s executive, saying it would force Hungary to welcome aslyum seekers, but he welcomed some other elements of the proposal.
Speaking in a Reuters interview a day after discussing migration in Brussels with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Orban said the devil was in the detail of the proposal over how to handle arrivals in the bloc, an issue that has long divided the EU.
“There are some goods news and there are some problems that are still not solved,” he said, speaking in an elegant, art-deco hotel in Brussels, where the EU’s executive arm on Wednesday presented what it dubbed a “balanced” blueprint on migration.
“Some taboos have disappeared,” Orban said, in welcoming the strengthened focus on sending back to their countries of origin those who do not qualify for asylum in the EU.
But he said asylum applications should be managed in “hotspots” outside of EU borders, something seen as all-but-impossible to do for legal and practical reasons, and that those who come to Europe’s borders would otherwise be detained.
Rights groups have long raised the alarm about Hungary detaining, refusing basic supplies like food or pushing back people arriving from Serbia. They say it runs against the right to claim asylum enshrined under international humanitarian law.
Budapest has lost a number of legal cases on migration at the EU’s top court since Orban adopted his hardline policies following a 2015 rise in Mediterranean arrivals that caught the bloc by surprise, contributing to a rise in far-right sentiment.
But Orban, his black face mask with a little Hungarian flag embroidered on it resting on a coffee table, was unapologetic, saying people can apply for asylum in Hungarian embassies abroad, or face being locked up if they come to the border.
“Nobody can step into the Hungarian territory without having a legally completed procedure and getting a clear permission to do so,” he said. “Migration in Hungary is a national security issue.”
A former liberal and anti-communist crusader, who then studied in the West thanks to the financial support of an ally-turned-foe, Hungarian billionaire philantropist George Soros, Orban rejected the notion of a multi-cultural society.
“In Hungary, we are very strict that we would not like to have a parallel society, or open society or a mixed-up culture,” he said.
“We don’t think a mixture of Muslim and Christian society could be a peaceful one and could provide securtiy and good life for the people.”
Orban said migration – together with protecting what he sees as Europe’s Christian cultural identity and its high living standards – was the top challenge today, just as overthrowing the Soviet-imposed communist regimes in eastern Europe was 30 years ago.
He criticised the Commission’s new migration plan for envisaging a possibility that Budapest’s commitment to send people back from southern EU states of arrival like Italy or Greece could turn into an obligation to host them in Hungary.
“That is a very problematic point. It’s not good, it’s rather bad,” he said. “It’s nothing else but just renamed relocation. And we always reject relocation.”
While Orban said it was too early to consider a Hungarian veto, he said it would take months before all EU states even clarify their exact positions on the proposal, which Brussels hopes would resolve bitter internal EU feuds over immigration.
He left no doubt, however, that Budapest would not agree to anything that could lead to Hungary being under obligation to take in people coming from the Middle East or Africa.
“This point is not acceptable for the Hungarian people,” he said. “That is why on certain points we are rather stubborn.”
Rejects criticism over rule of law, says he is a ‘freedom fighter’
In an interview with Reuters, Orban also denied charges that he flouts democracy and said he would continue to resist those who want an “empire-like” EU built around its institutions rather than its member states.
“When somebody says that democracy can be only liberal it’s an oppression. I have to fight against it in the name of intellectual freedom,” he said. “Sometimes in Brussels I have a feeling that I am still a freedom fighter.”
Accusations that Hungary violates the rule of law were “simply blah, blah, blah,” he said.