September 13, 2016

Hungary should be kicked out of the EU for its attitude to refugees, according to Luxembourg’s foreign minister in the latest diplomatic row over the bloc’s handling of the migration crisis.

Budapest’s refusal to accept the arrival of refugees had “massively violated” the EU’s fundamental values, said Jean Asselborn, who helped force through a plan to share out asylum seekers across the bloc.

As a result, Hungary “should be excluded temporarily or if need be forever from the EU”, Mr Asselborn said, according to the German newspaper, Welt.

Mr Asselborn has criticised Hungary in the past for its treatment of independent media and the judiciary. But his remarks on Tuesday mark the first time an EU foreign minister has called for another member state to be expelled from the bloc. They will also cast a shadow over efforts by EU leaders to map out a common future for the union, post-Brexit, at a summit in Bratislava on Friday.

Hungary has taken a hardline approach to refugees, erecting fences along its southern border and pushing back people who attempted to cross into the country. The government has spent more than €15m on a public information campaign attacking the EU’s refugee policies ahead of an October 2 referendum on Brussels’ refugee-sharing plan.

On Tuesday, Peter Szijjarto, Hungary’s foreign minister, hit back. In an email released to the press agency MTI he said Mr Asselborn was “an intellectual lightweight” who “lives a sermonising, pompous and frustrated life … just a few kilometres from Brussels.”

Broadening the spat, he attacked Mr Asselborn’s comments in light of Luxembourg’s attractive tax arrangements for companies while he defended Hungary’s hardline anti-refugee position as a vital defence of European civilisation.

“The comments are strange, coming from Luxembourg, the home of ‘tax optimisation’ and Jean-Claude Juncker [EU Commission president], who also talks about burden-sharing,” Mr Szijjarto said. “But we all know that simply means making Hungary bear the burden of others’ mistakes. The Hungarian government refuses — the Hungarian people will give their opinion [in a planned referendum] on October 2.”

Mr Szijjarto said his Luxembourg counterpart was “a classic nihilist” who “works tirelessly on destroying European security and culture”.

Viktor Orban, Hungary’s populist prime minister, has repeatedly attacked the EU’s handling of the refugee crisis, along with leaders from other central European countries such as Poland.

Budapest and Warsaw have been involved in a long-running war of words with Brussels over issues such as the rule of law. Both countries have attracted criticism from the European Commission after pursuing reforms of the judiciary.

Brussels opened a probe into the “rule of law” in Poland earlier this year — the first step in a process that could cost Warsaw its right to vote on EU law.

Such a step is possible only with the support of all member states. Mr Asselborn suggested it should be possible to impose sanctions without unanimity, which would require changing the EU’s treaties.

In less than three weeks Hungary will hold its referendum on the EU’s faltering plan to share out refugees among member states. Mr Szijjarto defended the plebiscite as an assertion of sovereignty by Hungarians, in spite of criticism from Mr Asselborn and others.

“The Hungarian people … and only the Hungarian people, have the right to decide with whom they want to live with and whom they do not. This is a right that neither the bureaucrats in Brussels nor the Luxembourg foreign minister can take away.”

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