Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn sparked a diplomatic row on September 13, on the eve of a top-level EU summit without the UK, when he argued that Hungary should be kicked out of the bloc for abusing EU values in its treatment of refugees.
The claim is presumably intended as warning to populist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban not to stir up trouble at the informal EU summit in Bratislava on September 16. EU leaders are seeking to stick to policy discussions that will allow the bloc to present a united front. However, confrontational and opportunist as the Hungarian premier is, Orban is only likely to seize upon the comment and use it as another stick with which to beat Brussels over what he – and increasingly many others - calls its democratic deficit.
Ejecting Hungary is "the only possibility to preserve the cohesion and the values" of the EU, Asselborn said in an interview to German daily Die Welt. "We cannot accept that the basic values of the European Union are massively violated.”
Orban has whipped up fears of immigrants over the past couple of years as he has sought to rebuild support for his ruling Fidesz party. The Hungarian PM is now said to view himself as a European statesman leading the populist agenda across Europe, and in a position to settle old scores that have been totted up through several years of confrontation with Brussels.
Any state that "builds fences against war refugees, or who hurts press freedom and independence of judiciary, must be excluded for the EU temporarily or for ever if needed," the Asselborn stated. Orban has "put the EU in trouble" by showing the world it cannot apply at home the values it defends abroad.
The Social Democrat called for EU rules to be changed to allow the suspension of a member state without unanimity. Currently there is no process for expelling a member state. The “nuclear option” of suspending a state’s voting rights was drawn up earlier this decade in response to Hungary’s repeated violations of EU mandates.
Orban has said several times in recent months that Budapest would block any effort to use those powers against Poland. The Hungarian PM has built a close alliance with Jaroslaw Kaczynski, populist leader of Poland’s ruling PiS party, and the pair say they plan to launch a “counter revolution” to change the EU back into a simple trading bloc, with powers repatriated to nation states.
The response of Hungary’s young foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, was delivered with the standard lack of diplomacy, aping the “common touch” of his boss.
"We already knew that Jean Asselborn is a frivolous character,” Szijjarto said in an e-mail to portfolio.hu.”It is evident that he lives a few kilometres from Brussels; he is so condescending, arrogant [and] frustrated. He wants to shut Hungary out from the EU, but he has already excluded himself from [the group of] politicians that can be taken seriously. As a good ole’ nihilist he is restlessly working on destroying European security and culture.”