March 12, 2018 / 4:45 PM / 3 months ago

Hungary seeks broader anti-migrant alliance after Austria, Italy elections

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary aims to coordinate more closely on refugee policy with Austria and Italy after elections there boosted anti-migrant parties, broadening an alliance of EU states focussed on internal security.

Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto attends a news conference with Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (not pictured) in Budapest, Hungary, March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Monday that the approach to migration of the Vienna government and the centre-right in Italy was very similar to the bloc’s central European member states.

“So it is obvious that we will work together in the future,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“This is not against the western part of Europe, this is against migration, and this is in favour of our interests because we put security first.”

A bitter row over migration policy sparked by the biggest influx of refugees into the European Union since World War Two has undermined trust within the bloc and weakened its unity, with its eastern states refusing to sign up to a quota system favoured by several richer members to the west and north.

In refusing to accept Muslim refugees, Hungary and its neighbours in the Visegrad group - the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia - have cited security concerns and the desire to preserve the traditional Christian make-up of their societies.

In Austria, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz formed a coalition with the Freedom Party following an election last year dominated by the issue of migration, making the country the only one in western Europe with a far-right grouping in government.

In Italy this month, the governing centre-left Democratic Party lost out to anti-establishment and right-wing parties that campaigned hard against immigration in an election that delivered a hung parliament.

‘MORE EFFICIENT’ COOPERATION

Szijjarto said the Visegrad countries had no plans to enlarge that alliance, but this should not prevent closer ties with like-minded states.

“What we definitely would like to do is to have a closer and more efficient cooperation with Austria and of course hopefully with the upcoming Italian government,” he said.

Kurz said on Friday that Austria planned to use its presidency of the European Union this year to shift the bloc’s focus away from resettling refugees within the EU and towards preventing further waves of arrivals.

He also pledged closer cooperation with Hungary after meeting Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the end of January.

Orban has been one of the EU’s hardliners on migration and is campaigning on a fierce anti-immigration agenda ahead of Hungary’s own national election on April 8, when he will seek a third term in office.

Asked about a recent video in which Janos Lazar, the top aide to Orban, blamed immigrants for pushing out “white Christians” in a district of Vienna, Szijjarto said he did not think the comments were unfortunate. Facebook first removed the video then reversed its decision.

“It is an open issue in Austria that the number of Muslim kids to be enrolled in Vienna schools is approaching the number of the Austrian kids to be enrolled. That is an open debate...,” Szijjarto said.

The Social Democrats (SPO), who govern Vienna in coalition with the Greens, said Lazar’s comments were part of a “racist and xenophobic election strategy” by Orban’s Fidesz party ahead of elections.

Reporting by Krisztina Than; editing by John Stonestreet

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