Sunday

21st Jan 2018

Helmut Kohl backs Orban's line on migration

  • "I know I always agree with my friend Viktor Orban," former German chancellor Kohl said (Photo: European commission)

In a visit to former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban promoted his views on the refugee crisis while trying not to openly criticise Angela Merkel's refugee policy.

In a statement published after the 80-minute meeting at Kohl's house in western Germany, Orban and Kohl said that "contrary to the impression left by press reports, [they] completely agreed on the goal" of Merkel's policy of welcoming refugees in Germany.

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  • Kohl in 1996 (Photo: European Commission)

"It is a about finding the best way to address an existential question for millions of people in a humanitarian manner,” they said.

“It is about a good future for Europe and peace in the world. [Merkel's] efforts of point in the same direction.”

However, Orban and Kohl added that Europe could offer “transitional asylum, or even become a new country, only for a minority of people concerned”.

"There is a not a solution to everyone," they said. “Europe should rather act in the certainty that it will not become a new home for millions of people in need around the world.”

In that context, "solutions should be found beyond Europe".

Asked about the Kohl-Orban meeting on Tuesday, Angela Merkel told reporters it was "sensible and useful".

Despite the kind words for Merkel, the men's statement is consistent with previous declarations, which were quite critical on the current chancellor's positions.

In an opinion article published last Sunday in the Tagesspiegel, Kohl already wrote that the solution to the refugee crisis was not in Europe.

In a clear reference to Germany's decision to let in Syrian refugees, he wrote that "the time for lonely decision, however justified in detail, and national unilateral initiatives must belong to the past".

In the same article, Kohl said that on European issues he knew he agreed with his "friend" Orban, one of Merkel's staunchest critics on the European stage.

In their common statement, Kohl and Orban mention a "Schengen 2.0" plan set out by Orban last week as an alternative plan to the current EU policies inspired by Merkel.

“It is not acceptable for someone in Brussels to decide that the countries of the EU must solve their demographic and economic problems through immigration,” Orban said last Friday at a meeting of the Centrist Democrat International (CDI) in Lisbon.

'Enormous pressure'

“We believe that there are countries in the EU which wish to solve their problems in this manner, and there are others which do not," he said.

Orban added that there was "enormous pressure" on Hungarian authorities to take asylum seekers.

"If we do not stop Brussels with a referendum, they will indeed impose on us … masses of people, with whom we do not wish to live together," he added, referring to a vote he wants to organise later this year in the EU refugee sharing plan.


For Orban, getting support from Kohl, the German leader at the time of the end of communism, is a way of enhancing his profile at home while celebrating EU values and Hungarian-German relationships.

"Mr Kohl is a great treasure for the whole of Europe… he stands far above us contemporary politicians," Orban told journalists after the meeting on Tuesday, while asking them “not to drag” the former chancellor into current political affairs.

He also said that Kohl reminded him of the late pope John Paul II, who was "intellectually sharp" but whose "physical condition did not enable him to express his thoughts completely clearly".

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Analysis

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Hungary's Viktor Orban feels vindicated by a shift to the right in EU migration politics, but more populism and razor-wire fences could pose "a challenge" for the Union.

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