September 12, 2019 / 4:36 PM / 4 days ago

Hungary's Orban hopeful on ties with new EU Commission after migration disputes

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Thursday he was optimistic that the new European Commission would improve ties with the EU’s eastern members, long strained by disagreements over migration and multi-culturalism.

FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives to take part in a European Union leaders summit, in Brussels, Belgium July 2, 2019. Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

The Visegrad Four group (V4) - Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia - has often been at odds with outgoing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and his team, especially over how to manage migration into the bloc.

The eastern nations, which unlike their wealthier western peers have little experience of absorbing large numbers of immigrants, successfully resisted a Commission plan to distribute asylum seekers across EU member states.

“I am optimistic. The new commission, the behaviour of the new commission, the denomination of the new commission, all that will determine how successful the next five years will be,” Orban told a news conference after a meeting of the V4 prime ministers in Prague.

He accused the outgoing commission of pursuing policies based on “let’s let migrants in, let’s build multiculturalism”, adding that Hungary and its neighbours opposed this approach.

Orban, who has also repeatedly clashed with Brussels over his reforms of Hungary’s judiciary and the independence of media and academic institutions, said the new Commission must not try to “impose on us the things that our citizens do not want”.

“But if this process of imposing continues, we will be resistant,” said Orban, speaking through an interpreter.

“PROTECTING EUROPEAN WAY OF LIFE”

Incoming Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen presented her proposed team of commissioners on Tuesday, including Greece’s Margaritis Schinas with a newly created portfolio entitled “Protecting the European Way of Life”.

Among Schina’s responsibilities will be finding common ground on migration, including a new pact on migration and asylum, according to his mission statement.

Asked about expectations for the new commissioner, Orban said the region was ready to cooperate but would resist any attempts to impose plans.

The other V4 prime ministers said they were happy with the portfolios secured by their candidates in the new Commission, which must still be approved by the European Parliament before taking office on Nov. 1.

The Czechs and Slovak candidates got vice-presidency posts, Poland’s nominee will be responsible for agriculture and Hungary’s candidate will be in charge of EU enlargement, which is a priority for the central European countries.

The Czech commissioner, Vera Jourova, will be in charge of European values and transparency, and so may touch upon the disputes Brussels has over rule of law issues, media freedom and judicial independence with Hungary and also with Poland.

Reporting by Jason Hovet, writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Gareth Jones

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