Politics

Hungary Demands €400 Million From European Commission For Border Protection – Update: EC Reaction

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has asked the European Commission to reimburse Hungary for half its spending on border protection, the Government Office Chief said on Thursday. János Lázár said at a regular press briefing that the total cost since the start of the migrant crisis amounted to 800 million euros.

The Hungarian Cabinet Chief said the issue of border protection should be discussed “in the name of European solidarity” and “solidarity must be demonstrated in practice”, so the EU should bear a part of Hungary’s costs. By building a border fence and training “border-hunter” units, Hungary has been protecting the whole Schengen area, not only Hungarian citizens, Lázár said.

Hungarian police and soldiers are instrumental in ensuring the safety of all European citizens, he added. János Lázár noted that several countries have already received help from the European Commission. Greece has already received half of the 1 billion euros promised, he said, while Italy is to receive 656 million, and Bulgaria 100 million euros. It is time Hungary also made a request, Lázár said.

It is high time for European solidarity

In his letter to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the Hungarian Premier has called on the EU to contribute half the cost of protecting the bloc’s external border incurred by Hungary. “Our country is protecting not only itself but also entire Europe against the flood of illegal migrants,” the letter published on Friday said.

“I am contacting you regarding the protection of the external borders of the European Union and European solidarity. As you well know, Hungary has been following the Schengen rules since the very beginning of the migration crisis, requiring the protection of the external borders,” Orbán wrote, adding that Hungary has built the fence, trained three thousand border-hunters and put them into active service. “It is not an exaggeration to say that the security of European citizens was financed by Hungarian taxpayers,” he wrote, adding that protecting the external borders had cost Hungary 270 billion forints (EUR 883m), a sum that was unforeseen and “a significant burden” on the Hungarian budget.

“It is high time for European solidarity to prevail in practice in the field of border protection…” the letter said. “We are convinced that, similarly to the cases of Greece and Italy, the European Union should take part in bearing the extraordinary expenses that incurred in Hungary but served the common interest of the European Union,” Viktor Orbán wrote.

700 migrants currently in Hungary

In 2015, hundreds of thousands of Middle East refugees and immigrants passed through the country, however, Hungary sealed off its border, forcing migrants fleeing from war or poverty to seek new paths to Western Europe. According to Reuters, there are currently less than 700 migrants in Hungary, of whom about 430 are kept in two closely guarded container camps on the Serbian border. Cabinet Chief János Lázár said on Thursday that in the first eight months of this year, 773 migrants entered Hungary illegally. “Without Hungary’s fence along its southern borders the numbers would be comparable to two years ago,” he added.

Update –  EC: “We are not financing the construction of fences or barriers at the external borders” 

At a press briefing in Brussels on Friday, European Commission spokesperson for budget and human resources Alexander Winterstein said the EU’s executive body would weigh the request made by the Hungarian Prime Minister. “Whilst we encourage Hungary to make use of the funding already provided so far, if Hungary is now requesting additional support, then the Commission is ready to quickly examine such a request and provide the appropriate assistance, if the situation so requires and in accordance with European law,” Winterstein said.

However he suggested that the EC would stand by its earlier policy on constructing frontier barriers, such as a fence Hungary built along a stretch of its southern border. “I will not go into details of [Hungary’s] request, but what I can tell you … is that we are not financing the construction of fences or barriers at the external borders. We do support border management measures … this can be surveillance measures, this can be border patrol equipment, but fences we do not finance,” Mr Winterstein said.

via MTI, kormany.hu and Reuters; photo: AFP