Hungarian Prime Minister Confronts EU Over Free Speech and Capital Punishment

Asylum quotas
Reuters/Laszlo Balogh

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán made a characteristically combative appearance before the European Parliament yesterday, drawing fire from some MEPs. He took the opportunity to return to recent controversies that arose following comments he made on the death penalty and immigration.

Referring to the European Commission’s proposed migrant distribution plan, created in response to the deaths of thousands of refugees crossing the Mediterranean from Africa, Reuters reports Orbán’s description of it as “absurd, bordering on insanity.” Further explaining his stance he told MEPs:

“Quotas are only going to bring more people to Europe. It is an incentive for people traffickers and it will simply tell people: yes, try to cross the Mediterranean at all costs.”

Although some allege that Orbán’s stance is a response to his Fidesz political party losing ground to Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party, he does not stand alone in Europe. He finds common ground with British Home Secretary Theresa May. She previously argued that a compulsory quota system would exacerbate the problem by acting as a “pull-factor” encouraging more migrants to Europe. The governments of both France and Spain have also expressed their dissatisfaction with the proposals.

Orbán’s public consultation of Hungarians asking their thoughts on immigration came in for criticism from First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans. He said:

“…a public consultation based on bias, on leading and even misleading questions, on prejudice about immigrants can hardly be considered a fair and objective basis for designing sound policies. Framing immigration in the context of terrorism, depicting migrants as a threat to jobs and the livelihood of people, is malicious and simply wrong – it will only feed misconceptions and prejudice. It will create and fuel negative attitudes towards minorities and it will stimulate confrontation between different groups in society. It is wilfully misleading to present migrants only as a burden to our economies and societies, without any mention of their contribution.”

Orbán then defended as free speech recent comments he made about the death penalty which had also drawn criticism from the European Commission. Although capital punishment is specifically outlawed by Article 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and Hungary abolished it shortly after the defeat of Communism in 1990, Orbán raised the question of reintroducing it in response to public anger at the murder of a 21-year-old female tobacco shop attendant in the south western of Hungary.

Timmermans stated that the there is “no doubt” that capital punishment’s reintroduction would be contrary to the EU’s fundamental values. Orbán dismissed that as “the opinion of one citizen” continuing:

“I don’t want to live in the Middle Ages where there are taboo subjects that we cannot talk about.”

While Orbán addressed the MEPs in Strasbourg a demonstration against his policies was attended by hundreds in central Budapest.