Commission President José Manuel Barroso indirectly told Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán today (16 March) that he lacks understanding of what democracy is. Barroso responded through a spokesperson to a statement by Orbán, who compared the EU to the USSR.
Asked to comment on Orbán's speech on the occasion of the country's national day, in which the Hungarian prime minister compared the European Union to the Hapsburg Empire and the former Soviet Union, spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said she was going to quote what Barroso thinks about those who have such views.
"Those who compare the EU to the USSR show a complete lack of understanding of what democracy is and show a lack of respect for those who have fought for freedom and democracy," she said, reading from a statement.
The statement appears as an unprecedented verbal exchange, albeit indirect, between the Commission president and the prime minister of a member country.
Greeted by a crowd of a quarter of a million chanting “Viktor, Viktor”, Orbán said in Budapest yesterday that he would not bow to EU pressure to amend controversial laws passed last year and compared “European bureaucrats” to Soviet apparatchiks.
"The programme and the desire of Hungarians in 2012 goes like this: we will not be a colony," said Orbán, drawing a parallel with the 1848 freedom fight against the Hapsburg empire of which Hungary was a part.
This is at least the second time that the Hungarian leader attacked the EU. Last week, he called the European Commission "extremely stupid".
In contrast, Orbán adopted a more conciliatory tone in a recent letter in which he sought 'precautionary aid' from the EU and International Monetary Fund as insurance against possible financial difficulties.
Hungary needs to reach an agreement with the IMF and the European Union on financial aid as such a deal is “a necessary first step” to stabilise the forint and restore market confidence, an executive at theOrganization for Economic Cooperation and Development said, quoted by the Bloomberg news agency.
The Hungarian forint was the worst-performing currency in the world in the second half of 2011 and has lost 8% of its value against the euro this year.