Orban’s Vienna visit highlights Austria-Hungary comradeship

Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache (L) and Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán give a joint news conference in Vienna, Austria, 30 January 2018. [Szilard Koszticsak/EPA/EFE]

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said yesterday (30 January) that he aimed to ease east-west strains within the European Union, as his new right-wing government welcomed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Vienna.

“In particular since the start of the migrant crisis (in 2015) tensions have grown in the European Union,” Kurz told a joint news conference with Orbán in the Austrian capital.

“Our great aim in Austria is to be a bridge-builder in this respect between the Visegrad states and the countries in western Europe,” the 31-year-old conservative said.

A rift has emerged in recent years between Brussels and the Visegrad group of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia — and in particular with Warsaw and Budapest.

EU rebels Poland, Hungary show united front

Poland and Hungary are winning the battle against the EU over immigration, the two countries’ premiers said Wednesday, with Hungary’s Viktor Orban predicting “a year of great confrontations” with Brussels.

A sweeping revamp of state institutions by the nationalist governments in both countries has raised concerns about the rule of law, judicial independence and media freedom.

Both have been the subject of legal action by the European Commission and they have refused to take part in a scheme to disperse migrants around the 28-nation bloc.

EU opens sanctions procedure against Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic over refugees

The EU launched legal action yesterday (13 June) against Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic for refusing to take in their share of refugees under a controversial solidarity plan.

Orbán has called immigration the “Trojan Horse of terrorism” and described migrants as “Muslim invaders” of a Christian Europe.

Hungary says this is not a refugee crisis, but mass exodus

The measures to address the migration crisis introduced by individual member states or groups of states have been more effective than the Commission’s action, a Hungarian high official said yesterday (13 June).

“The biggest danger today to the hopeful future of central Europe is migration of peoples,” Orbán told the news conference with Kurz on Tuesday.

“When I say that the future needs to be protected I mean that we have a culture, a Christian culture… We have a way of life, and we want to protect this way of life,” Orbán said.

New ally

Hungary and Poland could have a new ally in Austria, although both Kurz and Orbán on Tuesday sought to quash speculation that Austria might join the Visegrad group.

“Today is a new start” in relations, Orbán said.

Kurz has talked tough on immigration and praised Hungary for building fences in 2015 on its southern border, an outer frontier of the Schengen zone.

The EU scheme, Kurz said Tuesday, “isn’t working… We have to stop illegal immigration in order to ensure security in Europe. I am glad that there has been a change in thinking in many European countries in recent years.”

Orbán, 54, was expected to get an even more sympathetic audience later Tuesday in a meeting with Heinz-Christian Strache, head of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ).

Since December the FPÖ, which opposes immigration, has been Kurz’s coalition partner.

Strache told a news conference with Orbán that instead of insulting the Hungarian premier in 2015 during the migrant crisis, Austria’s government “should have thanked him” for protecting the Schengen outer border.

Orbán, Kurz and Strache acknowledged however that they differ on some issues, particularly Austria’s plans to sue the European Commission for allowing Hungary to expand its Paks nuclear plant with a €10 billion ($12.4 billion) Russian loan.

Austria to sue EU over Paks-2 nuclear plant, Commission says ‘see you in court’

Austria said on Monday (22 January) it planned to sue the European Commission for allowing Hungary to expand its Paks nuclear power plant, saying it did not view atomic energy as the way to combat climate change or as being in the common European interest.

Orbán also said that Kurz’s plans to cut child benefits for people working in Austria but whose families live elsewhere amounted to “discrimination”. Kurz said the changes “are about justice”.

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