Germany's Merkel and Hungary's Orban get testy in public over how to handle refugees

“The viewpoint of Hungary and Germany is quite different."

July 6, 2018, 8:19 PM

London -- The starkly contrasting approaches Germany and Hungary’s leaders have taken toward refugees were on public display Thursday when they clashed during a press conference.

“The viewpoint of Hungary and Germany is quite different,” when it comes to the treatment of migrants and asylum-seekers from Africa and the Middle East, said German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a joint news conference held with visiting Hungarian leader Viktor Orban.

"I believe --- and this is the difference --,” said Merkel, “Europe's soul is humanity. And if we want to keep that soul, … then [Europe] must not close itself off.”

Orban responded by praising Hungary’s fenced off borders with Serbia and Croatia, which he said were guarded "by 8,000 armed men," there to keep migrants out of Hungary and, Orban noted, out of central European places like Germany.

"We think it's unfair that Germany often accuses us of a lack of solidarity," he said.

Orban’s two-step with Merkel came only after the right-wing Hungarian met separately with German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, the president of the Christian Social Union. Seehofer is the most vocal anti-immigrant member of Merkel’s governing coalition, and the man who created a three-week domestic political crisis that almost blew it apart.

And it’s not just domestic dissent facing Merkel. The chancellor’s relatively liberal approach to absorbing foreigners is also facing a growing number of Eurosceptic and anti-migration leaders across the EU, from Rome to Vienna and Budapest to Bratislava, Prague and Warsaw. The disharmony is making it more and more difficult to strike deals on a pan-European policy on immigration.

Both Merkel and Orban tried to be diplomatic, trying hard to stress their countries close economical ties.

“All in all a good visit, dear Viktor,” Merkel summed things up, but the bottom line words came from Orban: "Germany and Hungary see the world differently."

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