18th Mar 2018

Hungary distances itself from Slovak 'Brexit' threat

  • Hungary's PM Orban announced plans in August to erect a second fence along its border with Serbia (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

Hungary has distanced itself from threats to veto a UK deal should EU migrants not receive "equal" treatment once Britain leaves the EU.

Slovakia's prime minister Robert Fico said over the weekend that the Visegrad countries - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia - would veto any deal that did not guarantee equal rights to their citizens working and living in Britain.

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But Zoltan Kovacs, who speaks on behalf of Hungary's prime minister, played down Fico's comments.

"Do not over speculate on what has been said," he told reporters in Brussels on Monday (19 September).

Kovacs said any decision on the matter can't be taken until the full position of the UK government is known.

"It is very difficult to say anything," he added.

Power tussle

The Visegrad countries see Britain's future exit as an opportunity to claw back powers from EU institutions.

Earlier this month, Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban, along with Poland's Jaroslaw Kaczynski, both vowed a "counter-revolution" in a post-Brexit EU.

“Brexit is a fantastic opportunity for us. We are at a historic cultural moment,” said Orban.

The tussle between Hungary and the EU has been rumbling for years.

But last year's large inflow of people seeking international protection further stretched ties and emboldened Hungary.

Kovacs said Hungary would flat out refuse to accept any returns of asylum seekers who arrived last year from member states. "We are not going to take responsibility for the shortcomings of other countries," he said.

He said terrorists and criminal organisations had infiltrated the asylum inflows and posed a major security threat.

Hungary has already spent close to €300 million on securing its borders with Serbia and Croatia. Another fence, to reinforce the first along Serbia, was announced in late August.

Last year's asylum crisis has helped to boost far-right and nationalist movements elsewhere like in Germany and Austria. It has also given the Hungarians a sense of vindication for enacting tough anti-migrant policies, like border fences, once vilified by others.

Hungary imposes criminal sanctions on anyone caught cutting or climbing over its border fence and will send them back to Serbia.

The migration issue is giving the Visegrad countries a sense of empowerment over a broad swathe of other topics, including economic.

EU in 'stealth-mode'

Hungary also expects broad political and legal fallout in Brussels following the results of its forthcoming referendum, which will ask Hungarians if they want the EU to "prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of parliament".

"We believe that the message sent by the Hungarian voters is going to be unavoidable for everyone," said Kovacs.

Critics says the government campaign in the lead up to the 2 October referendum incites hatred against migrants and asylum seekers.

Thousands of billboards display messages that widely paint asylum seekers as a menace.

Kovacs says only Hungarians can decide who they live with and repeatedly accused the EU institutions of "stealth-mode decision making" when drafting mandatory quotas on relocation.

Hungary is supposed to relocate 1,294 people under a two-year scheme meant distribute some 160,000 asylum seekers arriving in Italy and Greece across EU states.

Budapest has taken the issue to the European Court of Justice and expects a judgment before the end of the year. But Kovacs says the referendum question has nothing to do with "previous decisions made on behalf of the European institutions".

Instead, he says Hungary has the final say when it comes to policies dealing migration, asylum seekers, and refugees.

"That's the solid and unshakable Hungarian political and legal position," he said.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexit: preparing for a bitter divorce

Conservatives Brexiteers and Labour leadership are increasingly leaning away from the Norwegian-style deal with the EU, towards a UK-specific arrangement.

No-deal Brexit could cost €65bn a year

A no-deal Brexit would cost UK and EU firms £58 billion (€65bn) a year, but the cost could be just £31 billion if the UK stayed in a customs union.


No precedents for post-Brexit Irish border

Glib comparisons with the US-Canada border, or municipal boundaries within London, do not stand up to scrutiny - or the reality of an internal Irish border with 275 crossing points in a land beset by 30 years of armed conflict.

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