BRUSSELS: EU chief Jean Claude Juncker replied coolly to Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban’s request for reimbursement for defending Europe’s external borders against illegal immigration, saying solidarity is a “two-way street,” according to a letter obtained by AFP.
Juncker’s European Commission, the EU executive, said last week it was ready to study Orban’s request for Brussels to refund half the 800 million euros ($950 million) Hungary says it has spent on the borders.
In a letter dated Tuesday, Juncker told Orban that the EU had already given Hungary substantial sums to help tackle migration, including protecting its southern borders that are also EU external borders.
But he said Hungary has not always lived up to its part of the bargain.
“Solidarity is a two-way street. There are times in which member states may expect to receive support, and times in which they, in turn, should stand ready to contribute,” Juncker wrote.
“And solidarity is not an à-la-carte dish; one that can be chosen for border management, and rejected when it comes to complying with relocation decisions that have been jointly agreed.”
Hungary has refused to admit its share of asylum seekers under a plan Brussels initiated two years ago to relocate around the EU the 160,000 Syrians, Iraqis and Eritreans who arrived in the frontline countries of Italy and Greece.
The European Court of Justice, the 28-nation bloc’s top court, is due to rule on a legal challenge to the relocation scheme lodged by Hungary and Slovakia.
Orban has called immigration “the Trojan Horse of terrorism.”
In response to a wave of refugees and migrants crossing its border with non-EU Serbia in 2015, Budapest erected a razor-wire fence patrolled by soldiers and dogs.
It then reinforced that barrier with a second fence line, recruited some 3,000 special police and built another fence on its other southern border with Croatia, an EU member outside the passport-free Schengen zone.
Over 400,000 people crossed through Hungary in 2015 but the numbers fell to a trickle after the fences were built. Subsequently the “Balkan Route” northwards from Greece was closed.
The construction drew fierce criticism from Brussels, though other EU member states later built their own versions.
Juncker said he and the commission “remain committed” to working with Hungary toward a more efficient and fairer migration and asylum policy.