Taoiseach's meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister faces criticism

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee have announced they are to travel to Budapest this morning to meet with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, writes Cillian Sherlock.

The Government said the visit is part of an ongoing programme of engagement with EU leaders for discussions on Brexit and the Future of Europe.

However, the late announcement of the visit has raised questions.

Viktor Orban
Viktor Orban

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin questioned why Mr Varadkar did not inform the Dáil of the visit to Viktor Orbán when asked about his upcoming visits on December 13 in a Parliamentary Question.

The Hungarian Prime Minister has implemented policies that many have described as anti-democratic, against EU values and the rule of law, according to Mr Howlin.

Deputy Howlin said the visit tomorrow will be seen "as an implicit endorsement by the Taoiseach and Ireland of the policies that Orbán’s government has pursued including his recent propaganda campaigns against Muslims, the EU, and also on George Soros that has verged on anti-semitism."

A Government spokesperson said: “This trip to Bulgaria and Hungary is part of the Taoiseach's ongoing engagement with his European counterparts. These meetings are important opportunities to exchange views on matters of shared interest, both those on which there is agreement, and those on which there are differences.”

Viktor Orbán has rejected the EU’s immigration policy by saying not only is it "not working but it has failed spectacularly".

"It is clear that the European people don’t want immigration, while several European leaders are still forcing the failed immigration policy," Mr Orbán said recently after vowing to block any punitive measures against Poland by the EU.

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

He said his country’s anti-immigration policies are gaining strength within the EU.

He said democracy had "been restored" in Austria, where conservative and nationalist parties had formed a coalition government last month.

"The Austrians who reject immigration elected a government which also does not want immigration. This will be the case everywhere in Europe and I believe it is only a matter of time," Mr Orbán added.

In December, Orban, along with the leaders of the Czech Republic,  Poland and Slovakia, announced a plan to spend around €35m to beef up European Union borders as they came under pressure for refusing to accept refugee quotas.

The countries - known as the Visegrad Four - have been criticised for failing to show solidarity with Greece and Italy, where tens of thousands of migrants have landed after crossing the Mediterranean or Aegean Seas.

Brendan Howlin
Brendan Howlin

Deputy Howlin said Orbán has "removed constitutional checks and balances alongside taking control of state media and the judiciary, and has been seeking to take control of an independent University".

"He has stoked right-wing populism, and anti-migrant sentiment with his publicly funded ’Let’s Stop Brussels!’ campaign that saw a questionnaire sent to every household asking how Hungary should deal with immigration and other EU related issues he disagreed with," the Labour leader said.

"I hope the Taoiseach will have the courage to defend both the values Ireland and the EU have upheld when he meets with Orbán tomorrow and to criticise the divisive path that Hungary is pursuing within the EU," he added.

The trip to Hungary today is en-route to Mr Varadkar and Ms McEntee’s next engagement this week.

The pair will move on to Sofia on Friday to meet Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.

Boyko Borissov
Boyko Borissov

On the visits, the Taoiseach said he will thank the Prime Ministers for their support.

"These visits to my European Council colleagues, PM Orbán and PM Borissov, in Budapest and Sofia, are a good opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing our countries and the EU in 2018," he said.

"I will take the opportunity to highlight Ireland’s priorities for Phase 2 of the Brexit negotiations, and to thank the Prime Ministers for their support to date. I will also set out Ireland’s position on key European issues including the debate on the future of Europe and the EU’s multi-annual financial framework post-2020," he added.

Minister McEntee said the visits were important to deepen relations between our governments and citizens.

Helen McEntee
Helen McEntee

" I look forward to exchanging ideas about the Future of Europe, how we see the European Union developing and how we can work together to ensure it continues to deliver for its citizens. I would also like to wish Bulgaria well as it starts its first Presidency of the EU," she said.

The meeting with Prime Minister Borissov is an opportunity for the Taoiseach to have detailed discussions as Bulgaria assumes the Presidency of the Council of the EU for the next six months. 

“I also look forward to the discussion with PM Borisov on his ambitious Programme for the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU," Mr Varadkar said.

Issues discussed with Prime Minister Borissov and Prime Minister Orban will include the EU’s multi-annual financial framework post-2020, reform of the Economic and Monetary Union, the future of the Common Agricultural Policy and advancing the digital economy. 

Mr Varadkar will also discuss Brexit negotiations, including Irish/Northern Irish issues.

He said that Ireland needs to know if our Government will challenge the policies that Hungary has been pursuing.

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