By John Chalmers and Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, declaring himself a “freedom fighter” for national sovereignty, rejected on Friday a plan that would force European Union member states to welcome asylum seekers.
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.”
Orban, 57, has crossed swords with other EU leaders over his moves to put the judiciary, non-governmental organisations, media and academics under more state control in his central European state.
Critics in the EU say he defends the rights of nation states and ethnic majorities at the expense of the generally accepted rules of civic behaviour in the EU.
But, speaking in an elegant Art Deco hotel in Brussels, Orban said he was still fighting oppression, more than 30 years after Hungary ended over four decades of Soviet communist domination.
Accusations that Hungary violates the rule of law were “simply blah, blah, blah,” he said.
He stood firm on migration following talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on new proposals by the EU executive on how to deal with the large number of migrants coming to Europe, many of them fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
Brussels wants to step up the return of migrants, including by cracking down on visas for citizens of countries that refuse to take their nationals back, and bolster support for foreign states in stemming migration before people reach Europe.
But it would also de facto oblige member states, in exchange for EU budget funding, to host their share of refugees. Hungary and some others reject this.
“Migration in Hungary is a national security issue,” Orban said, while welcoming some aspects of Brussels’ proposal.
“In Hungary, we are very strict that we would not like to have a parallel society, or open society or a mixed-up culture. We don’t think a mixture of Muslim and Christian society could be a peaceful one and could provide security and good life for the people.”
Orban, who kept on a coffee table a black protective face mask with the Hungarian flag which he wears during the pandemic, dismissed widespread criticism that Hungary’s gay community faces mounting discrimination.
He said Hungary was “a very tolerant society” where gay rights are guaranteed by the constitution though homosexual couples cannot have legal status as a family and adopting children by them would, he said, “not be a good thing”.
He said respect for the rule of law was used as a political weapon by fiscally conservative northern European countries that link it to disbursement of funds under an EU economic recovery plan for the new coronavirus.
Asked about findings by the EU’s anti-fraud office that Hungary had by far the most financial irregularities in spending EU aid, Orban said: “I don’t accept the point that Hungary is more corrupt than Austria or Germany or Denmark.”
Orban praised Britain’s exit from the EU as “a brave decision” that showed the nation’s “greatness” but said Hungary was too closely economically integrated with the EU to leave.
Describing his relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump as “exceptionally good”, Orban said he was convinced Trump would be re-elected in November and that he had made no plans for any other outcome.
“The only reason why I’m sitting here after spending more than 30 years in politics is that I always believe in my plan A,” he said.
He urged the EU to reverse sanctions on Moscow – imposed over issues including human rights and the annexation of Crimea – but also supported the creation of a European army to constrain Russia.
“If we would like to have an equal relationship with Russia, we need to have a strong military power in Europe,” he said.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)
Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.