Hungary’s Orbán angers EU over death penalty, migrants

Viktor Orbán [European Commission]

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán angered EU lawmakers and officials Tuesday (19 May) by insisting that Budapest had the right to debate closing the door to migrants and reintroducing the death penalty.

“Hungarians talk straight about tough things. We don’t like to beat about the bush. We are a frank people,” Orbán said on a visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

He told hundreds of lawmakers and members of the European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation EU, that its new migration plan – proposing binding quotas on member states to admit refugees – was “absurd, bordering on insanity”.

Orbán said a “distinction” should be made between movement of labour within EU borders and the entry of people from outside the bloc.

“There are economic immigrants who are just in search of a better life… Unfortunately in Hungary we can’t give jobs to all of these immigrants,” he said.

“Member states have to protect their own borders. I think it’s insane to propose letting in all immigrants to Europe,” he said, explaining this was why they were having a public consultation in Hungary on the issue.

He said the treaty under which Hungary became a member of the European Union does not specify which issues Budapest can or cannot debate.

>>Read: Commission shies away from warning Orbán over death penalty

“As far as capital punishment is concerned, I don’t want to put my head in the sand,” he said.”This is not about the death penalty… This is about freedom of expression and freedom of thought,” the premier said.

Capital punishment is banned in the EU, and Hungary scrapped it shortly after the fall of Communism in 1990, but Orbán raised the question of reinstating it after the murder of a young tobacconist in the south of the country stirred public anger.

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal Democrat alliance in Europe, angrily scolded Orban for his stand on capital punishment. “It is a European issue. It’s not an issue of member states, it’s an issue of the whole European Union,” Verhofstadt said.

Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans also berated Orban for muddying the debate over plans for EU quotas for asylum seekers, adding that the EU was not pushing an “open-door” policy for immigrants.

>>Read: Hungary’s PM Orban calls EU refugee quota plan ‘mad’

“Don’t make a caricature of the plans of the commission, because we’re on the same page,” Timmermans said.

In an earlier statement to the parliament, Timmermans warned the Hungarian leadership of the risk of sanctions if it pushed to reintroduce the death penalty.

Orban has faced a series of spats with Brussels over his hardline stance on human rights and civil society norms — key values for the European Union.

Protests in Hungary

As Orbán spoke in Strasbourg, hundreds of people protested against his policies in central Budapest, saying his ideas were deeply flawed and were planting the seeds of hatred in what they saw as an already xenophobic society.

“It’s outrageous, what has been going on in Hungary vis-a-vis immigrants, refugees, and foreigners in general,” protester Agnes Kelemen said. “We have not been friendly to immigrants before and now politicians are changing that for the worse.”

Afghan refugee Ali Nawrozi, who has lived in Budapest for three months, told the crowd he was outraged at links suggested by Orbán between immigration and terrorism.

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