Berlin Calls Orbán Comment a 'Derailment'
Hungary's controversial prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has angered Berlin by comparing its policies to those of the Nazis. On Monday, Foreign Minister Westerwelle rejected the comparison, saying it was "regrettable."
A statement by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has sparked diplomatic tension with Germany, with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Monday calling the quip a "derailment."
The tiff originated with a remark by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday, in which she said Berlin would "do anything to get Hungary onto the right path -- but not by sending the cavalry."
Her statement came after Peer Steinbrück, her Social Democratic challenger for the Chancellery in the upcoming national election, said that he could see Hungary being excluded from the European Union, given recent worrisome constitutional changes that violate EU law. It was also reportedly a tongue-in-cheek reference to a well-known statement by Steinbrückin which he encouraged tougher measures against Switzerland's tax haven policies, comparing them to Indians running from the "cavalry."
The irony, however, was lost on Orbán, who on Friday compared Merkel's Hungary policy to Adolf Hitler's 1944 occupation of his country, though Hungary was technically a close ally of Nazi Germany. "The Germans have already sent cavalry to Hungary -- they came in the form of tanks," he said in a radio interview. "Our request is that they don't send any. It didn't work out."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is not amused. "That is a regrettable derailment that we clearly reject," he said while visiting Serbia on Monday.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz said he was astonished by the Hungarian leader's comments. "I am certain that he understood full well that the chancellor was sending an ironic warning in Hungary's direction -- but his populist leanings won't let him refrain from attacking even his fellow party friend Merkel," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE, referring to the fact that Orbán's conservative Fidesz party is a sister party of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. "The fact that Orbán reacted this way shows just how vulnerable he is."
Budapest has been heavily criticized by European leaders, who say that Hungary's new constitution, ushered in by Orbán and his party, threaten democracy, limiting the independence of the judiciary and media. A number of infringement proceedings have been launched against the country within the EU.