Merkel, Orban Clash on Refugees, Laying Bare European Disunity

  • Hungarian leader calls EU migration ‘Trojan horse’ of terror
  • Merkel offers spirited defense as EU leaders call for unity

German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered a spirited defense of her open-border refugee policy in a meeting Thursday with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who used a speech in her presence to blast European migration as a “Trojan horse of terrorism.”

With European Union leaders making urgent calls for unity a day after the U.K. triggered the process for leaving the 28-member bloc, the rare in-person clash between the two leaders laid bare divisions at a meeting in Malta of the European People’s Party, a grouping of center-right parties in the EU.

Speaking as head of his ruling Fidesz party, Orban called up a litany of charges against migration into the EU, warning of a “dominant Muslim presence” in western Europe in coming years and condemning a “leftist ideology” that imposed guilt “for the crusades and colonialism.” He called for overhauling the European Court of Human Rights for endangering security and setting up “safe spots” in Libya to hold asylum seekers bound for Europe.

The Strasbourg, France-based court ruled this month that Hungary’s asylum rules breached human rights conventions. In March, the nation’s parliament approved the mass detention of asylum seekers in shipping containers in the latest crackdown, depriving them of their liberty to move about while their application is processed.

‘Kick an Anthill’

In his speech, Orban warned about the western military interventions that caused instability in the Middle East, and their effects on migration.

“If you kick an anthill, we should not be surprised if the ants overwhelm us,” Orban told EPP delegations. “If millions of migrants start marching on the Balkans again, it will be impossible to maintain stability.”

Merkel, sitting a few feet away on the stage, hardly looked up during the speech, focusing instead on scribbling notes. Although she’s faced down criticism from within her Christian Democratic-led faction at home, as well as attacks from the populist, right-wing Alternative for Germany, the chancellor has rarely encountered personally the charges Orban made.

Last among the EPP leaders to speak, Merkel said that Syria, beleaguered by a six-year civil war and the source of a large number of Europe’s refugees, is “our neighbor.”

Humanitarian Role

“Do we just want to say that we don’t have any humanitarian responsibilities here?” Merkel asked, without directly addressing Orban’s charges.

The EU bore partial responsibility for failing to ensure international funding for refugee facilities in the Middle East, one of the main factors that triggered a wave of migration into Europe in 2015, Merkel said.

“We didn’t pay enough attention, so that’s why we ended up in a humanitarian emergency and that’s why we took in refugees,” Merkel said. “That was the right thing to do.”

The clash cut against the grain of the parade of conservative European leaders -- including Spain’s Mariano Rajoy, Ireland’s Enda Kenny and leaders of the EU institutions -- making entreaties to unity against the backdrop of Britain’s exit, known as Brexit.

“Brexit isn’t the end of everything, we must consider it to be a new beginning,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the group.

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