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Merkel Invites Orbán to Berlin

Tom Szigeti 2018.06.19.

According to a recent report by left-wing newspaper Népszava, earlier this week German Chancellor Angela Merkel invited Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for a meeting in Berlin.

According to Fidesz and government-linked sources, Merkel has signaled that she would be open to a meeting; however, when this potential trip would take place remains an open question due to the crises currently rocking the German Chancellor’s government.

Merkel’s current domestic political woes stem from a political conflict with Interior Minister Horst Seehofer over Germany’s approach to migration. Seehofer, who is also the head of the Christian Social Union (CSU), a party ruling in coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), wants Germany to refuse entry to migrants if they have registered as migrants in another EU country. For her part, Merkel has opposed this plan

out of the belief that such a policy goes against E.U. principles.

The two German leaders have now come into public conflict over this issue, a dispute which threatens to topple Merkel’s fragile coalition government and force new elections. For now, Seehofer has agreed to Merkel’s suggestion to table such discussions until after the major EU summit that will be held at the end of June, where the Chancellor intends to push for a bloc-wide solution to the migrant and refugee crisis.

In addition, in what may have been an attempt to protect herself from attacks by Seehofer and other anti-migration politicians at home, the Chancellor recently praised Hungary’s efforts defending the EU’s external borders, saying on German national television that

in certain respects, they [the Hungarian gov’t] are doing our work for us.

While it may be delayed then, Orbán’s invitation to Berlin seems to represent a serious acknowledgement of the Hungarian PM’s Fidesz government, as well as a major shift in German-Hungarian relations, which have been markedly poor in recent years. For example, last May a meeting of the Visegrad Group Countries (Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland) and Germany was cancelled because the two sides could not agree on even the schedule of events. Likewise, when the Czech and Slovak premiers were invited to Berlin for an event celebrating the 25-year-anniversary of the signing of German-Czech and German-Slovak friendship agreements, Orbán wasn’t even invited.

But while the meeting, if it does take place, will be a political coup for Orbán, it is quite likely that the event will give Merkel an opportunity to raise German and EU concerns over several of the Fidesz government’s recent policy initiatives, particularly legislation targeting  Central European University and the controversial “Stop Soros” legislation package; the latter has, in fact, led some within the European Peoples’ Party (EPP), the European Parliament (EP) grouping that Fidesz belongs to, to push for the expulsion of Orbán’s party from the EPP.

In Response to Controversial “Stop Soros” Legislation, Dutch CDA Party Calls for Fidesz’s Expulsion from European Parliamentary Group EPP

As the Atlantic notes in its recent article on Germany ‘s current debacle, the question of refugees and migration is an extremely controversial one in both Germany and in Europe as a whole. Interestingly, the American magazine points out that Merkel’s current political crisis over migration comes at a time when

both crime and asylum applications in Europe are at a low, and overall crime in Germany is at its lowest level since 1992. It fell 10 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year. Crimes committed by non-Germans fell 22 percent in that period, official data show. In addition, the number of people claiming asylum in Germany, and across Europe, have both declined dramatically.

Via Népszava, time.com, nytimes.com, index.hu, and the Atlantic

Image via AFP/Népszava